2011-10-26 / Editorials

Online Program Will Cut Street Paving Disruptions

We doubt very much that anyone anywhere in New York City, especially in Queens, the largest borough geographically and with the most linear feet of streets, roads and avenues lined with homes and businesses, has not experienced disruptions on the street on which they live or travel regularly. It has often seemed to us that as soon as a street was repaved after having been dug up for some reason or another, another crew from another utility, construction firm or city agency was taking jackhammers to the newly laid pavement.

Ongoing street excavating and repaving affects everyone who uses a street, be they car drivers, bus passengers, delivery people or pedestrians. Business owners who depend on walk-in customers feel the pinch as their customer base drops off because merchandise deliveries are curtailed or customers cannot get to a shop door. Buses must be rerouted, often drastically affecting schedules and seriously inconveniencing passengers. Nor does construction ever stay completely within the bounds of a street alone; sidewalks are totally or partially blocked and crosswalks are sometimes closed entirely. Pedestrians, particularly schoolchildren, mothers pushing baby carriages and the elderly or disabled, find getting around extremely difficult. That streets are repaved and torn up again, often within a few months, adds repeated insult to injury.

Last week Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, along with state Senator Michael Gianaris, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, Con Edison Vice President for Government Relations John Banks and National Grid New York President Ken Daly, announced that the city had started a new online program to improve coordination of street projects, keeping more streets open for foot and vehicle traffic, making New York City much more business-friendly and cutting costs. Bloomberg made the announcement on a stretch of Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, where the program’s recent implementation coordinated Con Edison work with a street resurfacing project under city aegis. Crews from a utility and a city agency worked with each other so the street was torn up and repaved only once, to the astonishment of not a few of the local homeowners and business operators.

The online program, called the Street Works Manual, is the city’s most far-reaching effort to improve coordination among utility companies, contractors and agencies to minimize the number of times streets are dug up, reducing congestion and extending the life of resurfacing projects. The manual formalizes agreements made with the utility industry to share information on which streets are scheduled to be dug up for construction or utility work, giving other utilities the opportunity to make repairs to their infrastructure before the street is resurfaced. Street excavation permits, resurfacing schedules and utilities’ project schedules will now be shared and updated regularly on www.nyc.gov, including online maps showing which streets are scheduled for upcoming work. The maps also display “Protected Streets”–roads that have been recently resurfaced and require both a higher permitting fee and stricter restoration requirements if a utility plans to do work there.

Aside from providing information about which projects are underway and which streets are affected, the new protocol also includes increased fines for digging up or closing streets without a permit and stronger incentives for collaboration and coordination. The fine for opening a non-protected street without a permit was nearly doubled to $1,500, while the fine for opening a protected street without a permit was increased to $1,800. These steps will reduce unauthorized street work and offer stronger incentives for coordination between city government and the private sector.

The problem of “something that’s aggravated New Yorkers since we’ve had paved roads –streets getting torn up, repaved, and then sometimes getting torn up all over again for another project”, as Bloomberg put it at the announcement last Monday, has long been in need of a solution. The Street Works Manual would appear to be, if not the entire answer, at least a good start. We congratulate the mayor, the city Department of Transportation and the agencies, utilities and construction companies that have so willingly joined to make New York City an even better place to live and do business, thereby benefiting us all.

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