Point of view

Time for 21st-century infrastructure


I am fortunate to represent a congressional district where people have been so compassionate about helping their neighbors affected by the tragic gas explosion in East Harlem. The situation in the aftermath might have been more devastating if it were not for the immediate assistance provided by the first responders and the Red Cross, as well as Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, and for that I am grateful. As we begin to rebuild our community and heal our spirits from the suffering and shock, it is imperative that we address some of our City’s infrastructure deficiencies now to avert future catastrophes. 

While we have to wait for the findings from the National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation of the gas explosion, we know that the dilapidated and outdated infrastructure has been a contributing factor. According to the March 11, 2014 report just released by the Center for an Urban Future, New York City is in need of about $47.3 billion worth of upgrades to mend its present infrastructure vulnerabilities in all five boroughs. The facts are alarming: over 1,000 miles of the City’s water mains are more than 100 years old; more than 160 bridges across the five boroughs were built over a century ago, with 47 bridges deemed both structurally deficient and fracture critical; the subway operates on 269 miles of mainline signals exceeding their 50-year useful life; and more than 200 of the city’s public school buildings were built before 1920. Clearly, we need to upgrade our current 20th century infrastructure to meet the demands of the 21st century. 

As the densest city in America, New York City cannot afford to ignore the problems that arise because of our aging infrastructure. Even at the local level, gas leaks are frequent, like the one reported last Friday and alarmed the residents on Cannon Place. Fortunately, it was identified and repaired that same day but this should not be repeated. This harsh winter season has surfaced the dire conditions of the roads and the number and size of potholes that have caused problems for drivers in the Bronx, leaving people frustrated and worried, and justifiably so. Left alone, these problems will devastate the city’s economy and quality of life.  

This is why I support President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget request that includes a long-term plan to make critical investments in our future that will help reduce the deficit. Of note, it proposes to enhance the role of private capital in U.S. infrastructure investment as a vital additive to the traditional roles of Federal, State, and local governments, by including the creation of the National Infrastructure Bank, an independent Government entity, in addition to the enactment of the America Fast Forward (AFF) Bonds program and other tax incentives to attract new sources of capital for infrastructure investment. 

In Congress, I have continuously fought for infrastructure investments, such as to extend the Qualified Zone Academy Bond (QZAB) tax credits for school renovation and repair that have been used successfully by school districts across the country, including our own, since first enacted in the Tax Relief Act of 1997 which I sponsored. As one of the nine original cosponsors who introduced and helped pass the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, (which provided a total of $105.3 billion in funding for infrastructure investment, and saved or created a total of 6.4 million jobs through 2012), I know that these types of investments not only modernize infrastructure, but also help generate jobs and boost the economy. 

It is unacceptable that America, the greatest country in the world, earned a grade of D+ in the 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers based on the physical condition and the fiscal needs of our infrastructure. If we do not address these problems now, it certainly will end up costing us precious lives, and three or four times more in emergency response and forced repairs down the road. 

I am proud that Bronx has recently been highlighted in Penn State Public Media’s documentary, “Water Blues, Green Solutions,” as one of the four cities in the country that is using green infrastructure to solve water challenges of flooding, pollution, and scarcity. The Bronx community leads the nation on the use of green infrastructure to solve our present environmental dilemma. Congress must do its part to commit the resources that will address our nation’s failing infrastructure that pervades the country.

Charles Rangel is the congressman representing New York’s 13th district. Point of view is a column open to all.