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OpinionColumnistsWilliam F. B. O'Reilly

New York is crumbling

One World Trade Center and the lower New

One World Trade Center and the lower New York City skyline, including the Brooklyn Bridge, are seen from the air over on May 13, 2013. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

I’ve always felt badly, as a Grand Central guy, for friends who had to commute through Penn Station.

What a dump: The low ceilings are claustrophobic; the waiting room is a zoo; floors are filthy, and the last-minute track announcement system is chaotic and demeaning.

And that was in the good old days.

Now Penn Station is virtually dysfunctional: Fecal matter drips from its ceilings, while trainloads of commuters pack its chambers and hallways waiting for news about canceled, delayed or derailed trains — day after day. God bless those enduring it.

Weren’t you supposed to have a Moynihan Station by around now?

My youngest daughter and I took an Amtrak sleeper car from Savannah to Penn over her spring break from school. It was something of a nostalgia trip for me; my family used to travel “down south” that way in the 1960s.

Besides the threadbare accommodations (for twice the price of airline tickets), the 17-hour trip went fine — until we neared Penn Station. The final leg from Newark added almost three hours to the trip. When we finally pulled in, ambulances were taking away 16 people who had just been injured in a stampede caused by a false gun sighting.

Welcome back to New York.

It’s impossible to overstate New York’s growing infrastructure crisis. Just walking in the city, much less driving, is treacherous. There are cracks and potholes everywhere. No wonder the city pays millions of dollars a year in personal injury settlements.

Even the new is compromised by the decrepit. My wife and I took our children to gleaming Citi Field recently. The path to and from an outer parking lot was third-world-like. Ten-year-old girls had to sprint across unsupervised highway exit and entrance ramps to get back to our car. That’s insane.

What’s crazier is the political neglect that allowed the decay to occur. It’s unforgivable.

New York State has an annual budget of around $163 billion. Texas and Florida for reference — states with higher populations — have budgets of $106 billion and $92 billion, respectively. (New York also pushes a third of its Medicaid obligation — somewhere in the range of $10 billion per year — down to counties and municipalities.) Yes, they have warmer climates and fewer ice jams, but still.

What are we spending all that money on?

We know the answer — everything. It seems we’ve been spending money on everything but infrastructure, the most elemental responsibility of state government. And the longer we’ve delayed repairs, the more expensive they’ve become.

The State Legislature just passed a law to give free college tuition to potentially hundreds of thousands of students from middle-class families while grade school kids are drinking dangerous levels of lead from school water fountains. Buffalo teachers and their families get free plastic surgery included in their contracts while roads in that same city are shut for fear of a bridge collapse. An obscene percentage of LIRR retirees are receiving disability payments, in addition to their pensions, but trains can’t pass through East River tunnels.

But here’s the worst part of it: Anyone proselytizing for the type of actual structural spending reform New York would need to address the dilapidation — without prohibitive tax hikes — would get creamed at the ballot box.

Voters want it all.


William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.