New York City Is Failing to Accurately Identify Its Infrastructure Repair Needs

By A Correspondent
NYC is lagging behind in repairing its aging infrastructure. (PakistanWeek photo)
In a recent audit conducted by New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, concerning findings have emerged regarding the city’s annual assessment of its infrastructure and repair needs. The Asset Information Management System (AIMS), tasked with accurately depicting the costs of maintaining the structural integrity of major infrastructure assets, has been found consistently unreliable. Lander’s audit underscores the city’s lack of an accurate understanding of the true costs required to maintain crucial assets, including sewers, roads, bridges, parks, schools, libraries, hospitals, and tunnels.

Comptroller Brad Lander emphasized the critical nature of this issue, stating, “You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken, and you sure can’t budget properly for repair needs for infrastructure that you did not even inspect.” He stressed the necessity for a more strategic approach, better inspection protocols, and innovative technologies to ensure accurate budgeting and maintenance of the city’s critical infrastructure in the years to come.

The audit revealed several shortcomings within the AIMS report. One significant finding was the discrepancy between estimated and actual project costs. For instance, while the AIMS report assessed the cost of maintaining the Riverside Park Bridge W79th Street Traffic Circle at $76 million, the actual cost ballooned to nearly double at $149.9 million when the project went to bid a few months later.

Further investigation indicated that the survey methods employed by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Department of Design and Construction (DDC), and external consultants were limited, particularly in assessing components not readily observable or accessible. This limitation led to underestimations of repair needs and costs. Additionally, inconsistencies in survey practices and the lack of written policies and procedures further compounded the inaccuracies in the assessment process.

The audit also highlighted instances where structural-integrity-related conditions were not reported in surveys, indicating a gap in reporting accuracy. Assets were found to be improperly included or excluded from the Capital Plant Inventory and the AIMS report, further questioning the reliability of the infrastructure assessment.

In response to these findings, the Comptroller’s Office developed a companion report titled “The Need for Better AIMS,” proposing best practices for infrastructure assessments. Recommendations include tying capital infrastructure assessments to planning, prioritizing maintenance, maintaining detailed inventories, adopting tailored inspection protocols, utilizing innovative technology, and validating inspection findings.

Council Member Lincoln Restler expressed support for the Comptroller’s efforts, emphasizing the necessity of accurate infrastructure maintenance for effective city operation. Emily Goldstein, Director of Organizing & Advocacy at the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD), commended the report for shedding light on infrastructure assessment issues and advocating for a more informed and equitable approach to capital planning.

Moving forward, the audit’s recommendations call for an overhaul of the infrastructure assessment process to enable the city to make informed planning and budget decisions, ensuring the maintenance and longevity of critical infrastructure for the benefit of all New Yorkers.

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