Why New York's Transportation Infrastructure Costs So Much

It's been remarked upon before. Infrastructure in New York City is a cost nightmare compared to other global cities. Accountability is lacking, Josh Barro writes, but MTA also suffers from an "institutional lack of power."

2 minute read

May 31, 2019, 6:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


New York Subway

Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

Amid the nationwide debate over crumbling infrastructure, Josh Barro writes, "where New York stands out is the massive price tags associated with proposed and actual new projects, and the delays and limitations of vision they impose on new construction." While cities like London and Paris implement "transformative" transportation projects, NYC is paying inflated sums for the "mundane."

Barro goes through some of the many problems driving up costs. It's a lengthy paragraph. "When you're doing everything wrong, the best way to fix the problem isn't usually to go through the list of things you're doing wrong and fix them one by one. It's best to step back and ask why you're so bad at everything, whether a systemic problem is causing you to make so many separate mistakes."

Two root problems afflict MTA, Barro says. The first is a lack of accountability: it's unclear who's in charge, and no one is on hand to take blame. "Less discussed than the accountability problem is the MTA's institutional lack of power. When the MTA wants to build a big new shiny thing, it's at the mercy of a lot of people and entities it doesn't control."

Tackling the accountability problem will require fixing the power problem, Barro writes. The agency must have "the tools it needs to have even a chance at success, so somebody will be willing to be blamed if it fails." And beyond dealing with MTA's dysfunction, another question New York should be asking is, "At what point is the price too high for a project like this to be worth building?"

Thursday, May 30, 2019 in Intelligencer - New York Magazine

Green rapid transit bus pulled into station in dedicated lane.

Indiana Once Again Considering Ban on Dedicated Transit Lanes

The proposed legislation would impact the construction of planned IndyGo Blue Line, the third phase of the city’s bus rapid transit system.

February 25, 2024 - Fox 59

Aerial view of New York City architecture with augmented reality visualization, blue digital holograms over buildings and skyscrapers

4 Ways to Use AI in Urban Planning and City Design

With the ability to predict trends, engage citizens, enhance resource allocation, and guide decision-making, artificial intelligence has the potential to serve as planners’ very own multi-tool.

February 20, 2024 - ArchDaily

View from shore of Sepulveda Basin water catchment basin with marsh plants along shore.

LA’s ‘Spongy’ Infrastructure Captured Almost 9 Billion Gallons of Water

The city is turning away from stormwater management practices that shuttle water to the ocean, building infrastructure that collects and directs it underground instead.

February 25, 2024 - Wired

Ice fishing tents surrounded by fence in Safe Outdoor Space for unhoused people in parking lot in Denver, Colorado.

An Affordable Housing Model for Indigenous Americans

Indigenous people make up a disproportionately high percentage of the unhoused population, but many programs designed to assist them don’t reach those most in need.

March 1 - High Country News

An electric bicycle is shown with the legs of a human who is riding the e-bike.

Oregon Bill Would Ban E-Bikes for Riders Under 16

State lawmakers seek to change Oregon e-bike laws following the death of a 15-year old last summer.

March 1 - Oregon Capital Chronical

Aerial view of canal cut into beach in Charlestow, Rhode Island with boats parked in sand.

Northeastern Waterways More Polluted After Wet Year

Intense rains washed more runoff into local bodies of water, while warmer temperatures contributed to the growth of an invasive bloom.

March 1 - University of Rhode Island

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.