Questions over NYC's aging infrastructure reveal troubling answers following water main break

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Wednesday, August 30, 2023
Concerns over aging infrastructure following Midtown water main break
The water main break that broke in Midtown Tuesday was originally built in 1896. Dan Krauth has more on the investigation into repairing New York City's aging infrastructure.

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The massive water main leak that happened near Times Square Tuesday morning and flooded the subway wasn't the first water main to break, and it won't be the last.

7 on your Side Investigates found the number of leak complaints increased by 24% last year compared to the year before.

They also found the number of old pipes being replaced has gone down significantly during a portion of last year because the money was redirected to other projects.

Meanwhile, the city says it's spending more, overall, on replacements.

There are more than 7,000 miles of water main lines crisscrossing under the surface of New York City. That's enough to stretch all the way to Los Angeles and back - and then some.

The water main that erupted Tuesday, was placed in 1896.

A team of engineers submitted a report card on the state of the city's infrastructure last year. That report shows nearly 40% of the city's pipes were placed prior to 1941 and that it would take more than 100 years to replace the aging pipes at the current pace. Even though the report states a typical recommended life span is 50 to 70 years.

"Aging infrastructure is not always bad, they built stuff to last 100 some odd years ago and it did its job for 125 years, that's pretty good," said Rohit Aggarwala, the city's commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection.

A spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection, which overseas water mains, said it spent $769 million to replace water and sewer mains last fiscal year. That's about 200 million more than the year before.

However, the mayor's preliminary management report that was released in January said that during the first four months of fiscal year 2023, water main replacement was down by 71%, sewer construction was down by 51% and sewer line reconstruction down 78%.

The report states the city's Department of Design and Construction has undertaken large initiatives that have "redirected the focus" of the department. Those initiatives include building tens of thousands of pedestrian ramps and other green infrastructure designed to help the city manage storm water.

A city spokesperson said that was only for a portion of the fiscal year and that other contractors build sewer lines as well.


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