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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."
May 31, 2019, 6am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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New York Subway
Kristi Blokhin

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?"

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