As if New York has nothing else to worry about, a recent survey of the nation’s bridges showed that more than 400 statewide are in perilous condition. A federal study found that the spans do not have enough built-in redundancies in case a vital component fails.
Politicians and policy analysts have been wringing their hands about the nation’s crumbling infrastructure for years—decades—now. We are more than a half-century removed from the massive highway construction of the postwar era. In New York, it has been more than 100 years since the great building boom of the late Gilded Age, which bequeathed us the Brooklyn Bridge.
Fortunately, the last two administrations in City Hall have recognized the danger of deferred maintenance. Thanks to a $5 billion investment during the Giuliani and Bloomberg years, most of the city’s bridges are in better shape than those funded and maintained by the state.
Still, there was some worrisome news in the federal study. The Kosciuszko Bridge, the much-cursed bane of commuters from Long Island and Queens, is in awful condition. The state is rushing to replace it by 2017, but, frankly, the urgency illustrates the problem. The Kosciuszko is an outdated span that should have been replaced years ago. It wasn’t, and now the rush is on to build a new bridge before the old one falls down.
The Tappan Zee Bridge, connecting Westchester and Rockland counties, is another symbol of state neglect. Yes, a replacement span is in the works, but the current bridge is on life support—finished in 1955, it was designed to last only 50 years. Once again, the state has had to scramble to fast-track its replacement, and, even then, the bridge needs to hold up for at least another three years.
Governor Andrew Cuomo, who lit a fire under the Tappan Zee and Kosciuszko projects, knows all too well the true cost of deferred maintenance and lax inspections. In 1987, during his father’s second term as governor, a bridge over the Schoharie Creek in upstate Montgomery County collapsed, killing 10 people.
Averting another disaster will require not just money, but a creative approach to financing bridge replacement and maintenance. Albany can’t put this off any longer.