New York City's Infrastructure Isn't Getting Any Younger

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A water main break early on January 15, 2013 leaves a crater in the street at 13th Street and 5th Avenue.

We know New York is an old city with aging infrastructure, but now we have an idea of just how vulnerable it is.

The Center for an Urban Future has interviewed hundreds of infrastructure experts and reveals a city seemingly held together with spit and glue. The report found that a substantial portion of the city's water mains, subways, public housing and roads are more than 50 years old and in serious need of repair. But to bring the city's essential infrastructure into that state of good repair will take several years—and $47 billion.

"This is a city where so much of it was built up in the first half of the 20th century, it's an old city," Jonathan Bowles, CUF's executive director, said on the Brian Lehrer Show. "It's more than just water main breaks. A lot of our basic infrastructure is deteriorating."

Key findings include:

  • On average, gas mains are 56 years old and suffered 5,835 leaks in 2012.
  • More than 160 bridges in all five boroughs were built over a century ago. "In 2012, 162 bridges across the city—or 11 percent of the total—were structurally deficient." Forty-seven bridges were "deemed both structurally deficient and fracture critical"—meaning engineers say there is almost no structural redundancy, making them candidates for failure and collapse.
  • There are 269 of 728 miles of subway mainline signals are past their 50-year useful life, with 26 percent being more than 70 years old. The report finds this slows down trains. They've also found that maintenance workers are building their own replacement parts, since the original manufacturers no longer produce those parts.
  • 63% of cargo space at JFK Airport is "non viable" or "unfit for modern screening, storage, and distribution

The authors of the report suggest the city needs to invest $47.3 billion in the next five years to replace and repair the existing infrastructure.

Key Data from "Caution Ahead"