DOT maintains a dizzying array of assets. On a typical street, the agency is responsible for traffic signals and street lights, street signs and poles, lane and crosswalk markings, pedestrian ramps, medians and pedestrian islands, the asphalt road surface, and the concrete foundation underneath. DOT also maintains a staggering 789 bridges citywide, from iconic spans like the Brooklyn Bridge to modest crossings like the Carroll Street Bridge in Gowanus. Other significant assets include the Staten Island Ferry operation, the agency’s two asphalt production plants, the Joint Traffic Management Center, dozens of support facilities and yards, and a fleet of 3,000 vehicles and heavy equipment.
To keep New York moving safely and efficiently, DOT is committed to maintaining these assets in a state of good repair. We cannot accomplish our goals of expanded mobility, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and improved street safety unless we meet this obligation first. This is no small task given the advanced age of much of the City’s transportation infrastructure—all four East River bridges, for example, are more than 100 years old. Over the next 10 years, the City will invest $14.4 billion in maintaining and rehabilitating our streets, bridges, and the Staten Island Ferry, and making other major investments. As we implement this ambitious program, we will continue to seek additional funding at all levels of government and explore innovations in project delivery.
A Life-Cycle Approach to Maintaining our Bridges
In the 1980’s, the City learned the hard way the high costs of deferring maintenance on its bridge structures. Because of the City’s financial problems starting in the 1960’s, investment in maintaining and repairing the Williamsburg Bridge was put off for years. In 1988, the bill came due: DOT inspectors found widespread corrosion and cracking in the beams supporting the bridge’s road deck. Faced with the risk of structural failure, the City closed the bridge for two months in order to make emergency repairs.
Deferring maintenance saved the City money in the short run, but accelerated the rate of decay of the bridge, which ultimately needed $1.3 billion in major repairs. By contrast, DOT now conducts regular maintenance of its bridges to prevent decay. Regular maintenance and strategic repairs can extend the useful life of our structures, increase the interval between major rehabilitation projects, and save money over the long term. This life cycle approach to maintaining our assets also increases safety and protects against unplanned bridge closures that can disrupt the street network.
Williamsburg Bridge reconstruction in the 1990s
We are also modernizing our approach by adopting best practices in asset management and expanding the use of technology. The agency is replacing legacy computer systems with modern platforms that better track the condition of our infrastructure, help predict future conditions, and analyze the relative costs of repair, rehabilitation, or replacement strategies. These tools can help DOT staff better understand the total cost of different approaches over the life of a given asset and to choose the most cost-effective strategy.
A State of the Art Asset Management System for Our Streets
DOT is responsible for maintaining the asphalt surface of the streets of New York City. The agency is in the midst of a comprehensive effort to improve our road surfaces. The agency is dramatically increasing its road resurfacing program: in fiscal year 2016 DOT will repave more than 1,200 lane-miles of City streets, up from just over 800 a few years ago. Resurfacing totals will reach 1,300 lane-miles in both fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the highest level since the early 1990’s.
But DOT is not just paving more, we are also developing systems to better track the condition of our streets and help extend the useful life of our roadways. The concept, in its early stages, is to build a software tool that can help the agency predict how fast a given street will deteriorate. If feasible, this tool will help us prioritize streets for resurfacing and to target the agency’s resources accordingly. It may also mean fewer potholes and a smoother ride for drivers and cyclists across the five boroughs.
Asset management is not just about keeping our roads smooth and our bridges in sound structural condition, it is also about protecting our transportation network from the hazards of global climate change. As Super Storm Sandy so painfully demonstrated, much of the City, and by extension our streets, are susceptible to rising sea levels and more frequent coastal flooding. As we reinvest in our streets, bridges, and tunnels, the agency is integrating resiliency features to make sure our infrastructure can better withstand the impact of flooding, extreme heat, and increased precipitation.
Fixing the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway Triple Cantilever
Over the next 10 years, the City will undertake dozens of major capital projects to restore our network of roads and bridges, including significant rehabilitation of major roads essential to the City’s economic vitality. In Brooklyn, the City will rehabilitate and reconstruct the 21 interconnected bridge structures that carry the BQE from Atlantic Avenue to Sands Street, including the “triple cantilever” stacked section of highway completed in 1948, which is topped by the iconic Brooklyn Heights Promenade. With no reconstruction work in recent history, the triple cantilever is in need of major repair since many of its components are significantly deteriorated. To reduce the project’s cost by as much as $100 million and its duration by nearly two years, DOT hopes to use the design-build procurement approach.
Finally, DOT is exploring ways to reduce the cost and duration of our major capital projects. The agency manages its own bridge capital projects and works with the New York City Department of Design and Construction (DDC) on capital street reconstruction projects. Currently DOT is required to use the traditional design-bid-build process, which can be particularly time consuming and costly on large infrastructure projects.
To help speed up our capital process, DOT is continuing to pursue authorization from New York State to use design-build contracting, a method of project delivery in which design and construction services are procured under one contract. By overlapping the design and construction phases, design-build increases the accountability of contractors and shortens the delivery schedule, thereby reducing schedule and budget risk for the asset owner. This approach typically achieves a time savings of one to two years when compared to the traditional procurement process. DOT estimates that use of design-build could achieve savings of nearly $250 million across nine bridge projects.
Design-build is widely used by 41 states and the federal government but remains unavailable to New York City. Certain state agencies and authorities, including the MTA, are authorized to use design-build, which has now been employed in more the 30 projects statewide, including the Tappan Zee Bridge and Kosciuszko Bridge replacement projects. DOT is also exploring other innovative project delivery approaches that can help reduce costs and project duration, while supporting well-paying design and construction jobs.
Increasing Resources to Keep Pavement Markings Fresh
Pavement markings, such as crosswalks, lane lines, and bike lane icons, are a key design element in DOT’s Vision Zero, Select Bus Service, and bike lane projects. Over the past 15 years, the agency has dramatically increased its use of pavement markings to make our streets work better, and the total inventory of pavement markings has increased from 69 million linear feet (mlf) to about 225 mlf today – a jump of 226 percent. Keeping markings clear and visible is essential to the safe and efficient operation of our streets.
DOT is embarking on an ambitious program to maintain our pavement markings in a state of good repair. Until recently, the agency was installing about 30 mlf of pavement markings annually. In 2015, with the support of Vision Zero funding, the agency expanded pavement marking installation to 50 mlf, and is working to further increase output to 75 mlf a year. This increase will enable the agency to continue installing new markings, while freshening up existing ones more frequently. Finally, DOT is also working to increase the durability of our street markings through improved surface preparation methods and the use of new materials.