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Changing Climate Requires Infrastructure Upgrades in NYC

As we celebrate Earth Day, New Yorkers should keep the inextricable link between climate and transportation top of mind. Rising temperatures and major flooding have severely damaged the tri-state area in recent years, showing us that the status quo for transit infrastructure is no longer viable.

None of us have forgotten the effects of Superstorm Sandy. The devastating aftermath still reverberates through our transit system, as salt water from the floods corrodes the aging electrical cable network powering our subway tunnels.

On a larger scale, Earth was about 2.45 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in 2023 than the preindustrial average, and the last ten years are the warmest in recorded history. Rising temperatures feed more frequent and intense coastal storms in our region, stressing the roughly 6 million different component assets that make up the country’s largest transportation system. That is why major investments in New York City’s transit infrastructure are more critical than ever.

We’ve seen numerous major floods hit our shores in the years since Sandy, including the record-high rainfall of 6-8 inches that ground mass transit to a halt on Sept. 29, 2023. Thankfully, the New York City metropolitan area has undertaken significant resiliency projects revamping subway tunnels, restoring beaches, and reinforcing major infrastructure to withstand storm surges.

Among these ambitious endeavors was the recently completed Coney Island Yard Complex Long Term Flood Mitigation project by our affiliate TAP Electric. This $300 million project helped restore the tracks and cables to power the trains at the New York City Transit (NYCT) Brooklyn facility, which absorbed 27 million gallons of saltwater and debris from Superstorm Sandy. The project also produced a 4,500-square-foot steel truss bridge, the size and scope of which was designed to stand up to the power of future storms.

While this was a step in the right direction, there is no doubt New York will need much heavier federal and local investment in resiliency projects to truly protect a city with 520 miles of vulnerable coastline. The devastation wrought by Sandy was a wake-up call for a region whose subway system, three major airports, shipping infrastructure, oil tanks, and refineries are all located in low-lying areas susceptible to flooding.

Meanwhile, New York’s long-awaited implementation of congestion pricing this summer marks another positive step for the city. This policy has already helped major cities like London, Stockholm, and Singapore ease traffic congestion and cut pollution from vehicle emissions, all while raising millions of dollars to reinvest in improved public transportation systems.

A 2023 study ranked New York City as the worst in the country for traffic congestion, with the average resident spending 236 hours in rush hour traffic annually. The transportation sector accounts for nearly one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions in the state, so clearly, we’re in need of sweeping changes to how we get around town.

In addition to unclogging our streets, congestion pricing is expected to generate $1 billion annually, which will convert to $15 billion in bonds for repairs and improvements to a public transportation network serving 15.3 million people across New York City, Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut. Upgrades to this complex system are urgently needed, especially with post-pandemic ridership numbers continuing to rise.

We can’t predict when the next superstorm will hit, just like we can’t say how long it will take commuters to adapt to congestion pricing fully. What we can do is stay educated and assist with projects that will ultimately create a more livable environment for our city.

Written By

John Burke, CSP, ARM

Environmental Health & Safety Manager


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