New methods of financing can open up much needed investment in infrastructure.
In industrial facilities, the importance of preventive maintenance is well-understood. Sure, you could save a few bucks by skipping scheduled part inspections and replacements — but those parts would break sooner as a result, putting an expensive dent in your factory’s output. Instead of sparing the oil can, plant managers know it’s better to invest upfront, and keep their machinery in prime condition.
Unfortunately, America’s municipal leaders have sometimes lagged behind. For decades, cities have neglected routine maintenance in a bid to conserve cash. Inevitably, public services and infrastructure have suffered as a result.
Now, with Covid-19 blowing a hole in municipal budgets, we’ve reached a breaking point. With city, state, and federal governments short on cash, it’s no longer possible for cities to keep deferring routine maintenance and relying on emergency cash injections to fix breakages. Our cities urgently need a smarter approach — one that can keep water, lights, trains, and other critical infrastructure running smoothly, without increasing the cost to taxpayers.
A big problem
New York City’s MTA is the poster-child for underinvestment in maintenance: a 2017 report found maintenance budgets had stagnated for 25 years, even as ridership doubled. The upshot: plummeting performance, with over 30 per cent of trains arriving late. In response, planners scheduled $54 billion of new investments to upgrade everything from signal boxes to escalators — but post-Covid, that plan has been shelved. Instead, the MTA has reverted to a “Doomsday budget” that will see services slashed by 40 per cent and further erode maintenance programs.