New York/Infrastructure


Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant (digester eggs) (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

The existence of New York is based on its extraordinary infrastructure both natural and man-made. The building of the Erie Canal opened up the west, and connected New York to limitless sources of prosperity. The building of New York’s water system with its reservoirs and aqueducts provided clean water to the city, and current expansion and replacement of that system guarantees the future viability of the city. The subway system, even Robert Moses’ hated arterial highway system, provide critical mobility, and current expansion projects under Second Avenue and the extension of the 7 line on the west side of Manhattan are examples of a continuing commitment to enhance that mobility.

Getting rid of the waste of an enormous metropolis has also required huge infrastructural investments–even visionary thinking. The Newtown Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, above, is an example of that thinking with cutting edge technology and stunning architecture. New York Harbor with its rivers and estuaries remains one of the greatest assets of the city. But New York would not have prospered without the building of the Brooklyn, Williamsburg, Manhattan, and Queensborough Bridges, among others, to the east. Nor would it have thrived without being connected to the west, to the rest of the country through the Hudson River tunnels, both highway and rail, and the George Washington Bridge.

Yes we can.

The building of these projects all required extraordinary vision and political will. Along the way there was wasted money, corruption, construction flaws, and a plethora of other evils. But in the end, the public’s money paid for an infrastructure that makes New York one of the greatest cities in the world.

No we can’t.

Yesterday, the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, broke faith with the vision that created that greatness–the greatness not just of New York, but of the United States. His decision to cancel the state of New Jersey’s participation in the building of a second rail tunnel beneath the Hudson River, an enormously important project which would double the capacity to move commuters and travelers to and from the city, is depressingly short sighted and is indicative of so much that is wrong with the U.S. At precisely the time when reinvestment in the infrastructure of the nation is desperately needed to keep up with Europe, Japan, and the rapidly expanding economies of Asia, Christie says no, we can’t afford to go forward.

The governor may be thinking of his presidential future–I killed that financial rathole of a project–or maybe he is a true believer in small government with its attendant lower expectations. Whatever the case, this is Christie’s “bridge to nowhere,” or rather, his tunnel to historical ignominy–and hopefully, oblivion.

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