When Politicians Make Spending Decisions: Neglected Hidden Infrastructure

CBS News New York published an investigative report, “Experts Say Decaying Gas Lines Are A Ticking Time Bomb Below City Streets.”

From the city to the suburbs, thousands of miles of some of the country’s oldest and decaying gas mains lay just below the surface of our streets.

As CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported, experts said the consequences could be dangerous or devastating.

In the early 20th century, there were new roads, rails, and an underground system delivered gas to buildings around New York.

More than 100 years later the landscape has drastically changed — but some of those exact same mains are still delivering our gas today.

“That infrastructure is way past its service life, which is dangerous,” natural gas expert Mark McDonald said.

McDonald, who investigates gas explosions, said aging mains like the ones we have in the northeast are at greater risk for cracks and ultimately leaks.

He pointed to a string of accidents across the country, the largest of which happened in Northern California in 2010, it killed nine people and destroyed property.

I remember that when the levees failed in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina there were reports that the city government knew they needed to be repaired but didn’t want to divert the resources necessary. It seems the same is happening with gas mains in New York City and elsewhere.

When you choose your leadership by popularity contest, the people that get elected are the ones that do the most to pay off voters. This means there is a perpetual incentive to fund new shiny projects that people will appreciate. The incentive to divert resources or raise taxes to repair a levee or replace miles of gas main is always very low. It is too easy to defer those projects. “Let’s see if I am still in office next term. Right now I need to prioritize spending that will get me re-elected. But the next term, no matter who wins the election, the office holder has the same incentive to neglect the project. “We’ve made it this long. Things will be fine for awhile yet.”

And then the hurricane comes or there is a gas explosion.

Meanwhile, politicians are inventing fictions like global warming while continuing to neglect real problems.