From a local village nestled in the hills of Long Island’s North Shore, all the way up to President Obama giving his State of the Union address, it seems like every policymaker is focusing on America’s crumbling infrastructure.This focus is long overdue.
The simple fact is that for decades, our transit and road networks were allowed to atrophy as the rest of the world surpassed us in technologies and systems we once pioneered. Thanks to a large NIMBY culture, armchair stakeholder “experts” contributing their two cents and a distinct lack of fiscal support, large projects are often harrumphed by a cynical public that quite frankly has little reason to not be cynical. From cost overruns to project delays, large-scale public work projects have left a sour taste in many taxpayers’ mouths.
Despite the bad impression these types of projects bring, they are much needed. On Long Island, as well as in New York City, the infrastructure situation is particularly dire. Thanks to heavy abuse by frequent commuting, battering by various storms and simple age, roads such as the Nassau Expressway are falling apart to the point where they can’t serve residents’ needs anymore. Those that aren’t crumbling are not capable of handling the increased demand that years of unchecked growth has brought.
A shift is coming. From the governor’s office to the White House, policymakers are looking to upgrade our broken systems. Interestingly enough, it seems that the expansion of high-speed Internet networks, once the domain of big communications and cable conglomerates, will now become a public endeavor as well, allowing rural areas to reap the benefits of broadband. From high-speed trains, roads with less traffic and the ability to conduct e-commerce, these projects are a critical lynchpin in not only Nassau and Suffolk counties’ futures, but our national future as well.
While Long Islanders have little control over the national political climate, residents do have a say as to what happens in their backyards. It seems everyone wants new systems, except in their neighborhood. To help ease the process, as well as maximize the usage of recent bank settlements and federal funds, residents must participate and engage in the civic process. Most importantly, residents should keep an open mind, not immediately defaulting to the NIMBY mindset so many find themselves in. Would an expanded Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station really impact abutting subdivisions more than the existing road does? How about expanding the LIRR mainline or additional lanes on the Sunken Meadow Parkway?
In an age where it takes decades to plan an interchange, we are partially responsible for our current situation. Long Islanders are skeptical of any type of development, but there is a distinct difference between a private developer asking to increase density to bolster profits and state government looking to improve a roadway for the public good.
We need to learn the difference and accept the fact that our networks are overburdened and underfunded.
Each and every project is different, with each development proposal being unique. While an apartment building doesn’t work in one community, an expanded roadway just might. On Long Island, maintaining the status quo of our networks is no longer feasible, nor is it fiscally sustainable. We’ve grown too much in the last three decades to rely on our current roads, rails and wastewater plants. We need an infrastructure on the regional and national level, and the effort cannot be hampered by local interests or stakeholder whims. Improving our infrastructure, while balancing economic growth and environmental protection efforts is a win-win-win for all involved. We tirelessly try to build our way out of recession via residential and retail growth with mixed results. If we’re going to build, it might as well be for the public benefit.
Let’s get to work improving systems and networks that have been ignored for far too long.