Anyone who has navigated Penn Station at rush hour or flown out of Newark Airport knows how desperately the New York City metropolitan area’s most critical infrastructure is in need of repair, modernization or outright replacement.
Today marks one year since President Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) into law, making arguably the single most significant investment in our nation’s history in our communities, economic growth and workforce.
Yet a full 12 months later, we have yet to see or experience the real-world impact of such a landmark investment. In fact, only $110 billion of the $1.2 trillion had been disbursed as of the six-month mark. Literally, trillions of dollars remain unspent and caught in a bureaucratic web, while road conditions are worsening, the housing shortage is intensifying and extreme climate events are devastating our cities. With political gridlock likely on the horizon, the time is now to ensure what was intended to be a sea-change moment in American infrastructure actually comes to fruition.
The federal government must begin disbursing these funds now, into the hands of those who can deliver sorely needed repairs to our aging infrastructure. The building industry stands ready to break ground on so many projects that just need an infusion of funding to take them from master plans to materialization.
Construction and development are at an all-time high in New York City right now — adjusting for inflation, spending is expected to reach $250 billion over the next three years. But the projection doesn’t include IIJA funds because they have not yet impacted New York in any significant way.
Myriad federal agencies have been tasked with sorting through hundreds of thousands of applications for various programs and grants. Appreciating that can take time, we believe the wait to get money out the door should be counted in months, not years. So we’ll make that process easier, specifically for New York: We have five critical infrastructure projects that are shovel-ready and will have a major bearing on the city’s longevity, livability, accessibility, equity and resiliency.
The Daily News Flash
Catch up on the day’s top five stories every weekday afternoon.
1. NYCHA capital improvements. The New York City Housing Authority’s resident population is as large as the whole of Atlanta or Miami. While the IIJA can’t fully fund NYCHA’s massive capital needs, it can make a considerable impact through both repairs and investment in resident hiring, economic empowerment and power of choice for residents. At the same time, making these repairs utilizing a more forward-thinking “green” lens will provide residents more protection from future extreme climate events like Superstorm Sandy.
2. MTA station accessibility. High-quality public transportation is a cornerstone of New York City’s economy — every dollar invested in public transit generates $4 in economic returns. However, decades of underinvestment have left too many communities without equitable access to adequate public transportation, and just 126 of our 472 subway stations (about 27%) are fully accessible for people with disabilities. The MTA needs to generate the same benefits for all New Yorkers, ensuring safe access to a key driver of our shared economic success.
3. Midtown West: Gateway, Penn Station, Port Authority Bus Terminal. The opportunity is at hand to dramatically change the narrative of “dark, cramped, unsafe” transit access in Manhattan. Specifically, the Port Authority Bus Terminal is probably as far from “future-forward” as New York gets. A complete revitalization project is expected over the next decade to better serve the terminal’s 200,000 daily users. Capacity would increase by 40%, an all-electric bus fleet would be supported. Combined with crucial Penn Station redevelopment and the Gateway Program, these projects will transform Midtown West into the transportation hub — and entirely reborn area — that New Yorkers have long deserved.
4. Flood gates. The U.S. Army Corps’ proposed system of storm surge gates along coastal areas from Upper Manhattan to Jamaica Bay is essential to protect the city from increasingly frequent and intense flooding and storm surges, especially in our most vulnerable areas. A decade after Sandy, we’ve known for too long now that flood barriers must be built in conjunction with other flood protection and mitigation measures to create a comprehensive citywide resiliency plan. Planning and design work on this project can begin quickly, following an expedited environmental review.
5. Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. I’ve said it time and time before but I’ll say it again — the BQE is dangerous, ugly, polluting, and has its roots in systemic racism. Our communities deserve better. It’s time to start from square one. We applaud Mayor Adams and his administration for moving forward with the recommendations of the BQE Expert Panel. Still, more needs to be done, and the clock is ticking.
The infrastructure law is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for New York to finally invest and reimagine our systems in a way that can better serve every community. We can’t afford to miss it.
Scissura is the president and CEO of the New York Building Congress.