New York City’s charm is in part forged by its history, and some of the older elements that march on with time. However, there’s a flip side to aging infrastructure, and that is that things are still in place long after their intended life, and have an increasing proclivity to breakdown or otherwise have problems.
WNYC’s Transportion Nation blog summarized the aging infrastructure discussed in a recent report, but the transportation side, which tends to interest me more in the aftermath of all the Metro-North troubles, is pretty grim as well: A third of the subway system’s signaling systems are past its useful life, and 47 New York bridges are structurally deficient and fracture critical – meaning that they’re at the most risk of breaking down or collapsing.
Twenty-six percent of subway signals are more than 70 years old. No wonder there’s so much work to do in the aftermath of Sandy; the MTA’s team has to actually make the parts themselves because no manufacturer supports equipment that old. The average subway shop is now 90 years old.
This is what we’re working with when it comes to trying to modernize our infrstructure. And of course, the cost to modernize it is steep – nearly $50 billion. That money isn’t likely to materialize soon, so we focus on the worst of it, and hope the rest holds up awhile longer. Some of the subway cars currently running on the C celebrated their 50th birthdays, a marvel at the quality of the subway cars themselves, but a legacy of a lengthening replacement cycle that’s become the norm (when most of the equipment was actually initially intended for a 30-to-35-year lifespan).
With money not endless, we pray things hold up, and that problems don’t arise. As Metro-North has learned, that’s not always easy, especially when there’s high expectations of reliable service. I for one hope certainly that work begins to modernize our system before things fall too far behind to be saved.