view counter

Disaster recoveryNew Jersey infrastructure badly needs shoring up, and soon

Published 30 August 2012

According to experts, changes to the way New Jersey maintains its infrastructure must be made soon, or the state could be vulnerable to catastrophic failures in its water and power systems as well as collapsing roads; the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority says more than $56.9 billion will be needed just to maintain state roads, rails, and public transportation systems through 2035; when you add in improvements to account for environmental changes and the expanding population in the state, the bill skyrockets to more than $123 billion

When Hurricane Irene hit New Jersey last year it became evident that the state was not ready for such a storm. A bridge containing pipes that held the water for most of Monmouth County was beat so badly that less than a year later the bridge broke down and left 200,000 residents without clean water for a week.

This was not the only damage done by the notorious hurricane. Twelve people were killed, and an estimated $915 million in insurance claims were handed out due to the storm’s 70 mph winds and nearly ten inches of rain.

Hurricane Irene bent, broke, and cracked New Jersey’s foundation in some places and citizens of the state are getting fed up with New Jersey’s aging and substandard infrastructure. In some places, flooding is an annual problem and officials along with residents are getting tired of seeing their basements underwater year after year.

We’ve had one (major flood) every year going on three or four years now. We do everything we can, but we can only do so much,” Fairfield mayor James Gasparini told NJ.com. “With the money that they’re spending to fix these homes and insurance and everything else, they could be fixing the problem.”

After Irene hit, private utilities and agencies have spent over $230 million in repairs to critical infrastructure, which has drained funding for improving the infrastructure and has also led to higher water and energy bills. According to experts, changes must be made soon, or the state could be vulnerable to catastrophic failures in its water and power systems as well as collapsing roads.

We are definitely very vulnerable,” Qizhong Guo, a professor in Rutgers University’s civil engineering department told NJ.com. “Our infrastructure is aging — that alone is going to make things like this happen more often. But add climate change on top of that, with more intense rain and more intense drought, and you’re going to see it more and more and more.”

Despite the serious damage that Irene caused to the Garden State, the state was able to make a few significant repairs. The state was able to repair 114 portions of the state’s highway system, according to the Department of Transportation, which spent around $10 million in repairs.

As a result of the damage and repairs, the state is now struggling to generate enough money to make improvements to the state’s infrastructure. The North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority says more than $56.9 billion will be needed just to maintain state roads, rails, and public transportation systems through 2035. When you add in improvements to account for environmental changes and the expanding population in the state, the bill skyrockets to more than $123 billion.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) said that the state needs $22 billion to upgrade the drinking and waste management system. Guo said the state has a litany of leaking, collapsed, and clogged pipes, some of which are more than 100 years old and which were originally built to handle small storms.

We’re going to start seeing more intense rainfall. That creates more runoff, more water coming in and many of the pipes are already cracked or clogged or have even suffered collapses,” Guo told NJ.com. “So where there are these older systems, it’s going to create more flooding.”

According to some state officials, not finding the money and investing in improvements could end up costing the state even more money and more importantly, lives.

We’ve been studying this thing for 100 years. We’ve studied it to death,” Gasparini, the Fairfield mayor, told NJ.com. “With the millions or billions of dollars that have been spent here after floods, you could have fixed the problem and never have to worry about it again. Money is being thrown away every time there is a flood.”