New York City Councilmembers warned on Tuesday that a summer of blistering temperatures and occasional heavy downpours that have tested the physical frameworks on which the city is built will only get worse as climate change brings more extreme weather to the city.
A joint hearing from the Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, the Committee on Resiliency and Waterfronts, and the Committee on Environmental Protection came on the heels of the city’s longest heat wave since 2013, during which temperatures soared well past 90 degrees for multiple days in succession.
The five boroughs have also had a recent spate of flooding in low-lying areas with poor drainage. Reports of sinkholes in the Bronx have renewed attention to the city’s aging infrastructure.
“We have had 10 years to think about extreme weather events that we know will continue to worsen,” said Councilmember Ari Kagan, whose Brooklyn district includes Coney Island. “Why are we still concentrating on stopgap measures like inflatable dams and sandbags?”
Members of the Adams administration, including Rohit Aggarwala, the city’s chief climate officer and commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection, testified over several hours. Officials from the DEP and the city's Department of Transportation were asked about the current administration’s “efforts to prevent and mitigate sinkholes and other road collapses caused by severe storms.”
Headlining Tuesday's hearing was a sinkhole in the Bronx's Morris Park neighborhood that came amid heavy rainfall in July. Footage appeared to show the sinkhole, which Aggarwala said was ultimately caused by climate change, swallowing a van whole. He added the underlying sewer line was unable to sustain pressure from heavy rainfall.
Aggarwala said fending off more sinkholes wasn’t an issue that could be addressed by more capital funding alone.
“We don't know exactly what we would do with more money that would systematically reduce the likelihood of sinkholes,” he told councilmembers. “If something is random, you can fix whatever you want, and it may not have any impact on the number that you are looking to affect.
The committee report released ahead of Tuesday’s hearing touched on several points, including the condition of roadways — many of which are in less prime condition than in the year 2000. Twenty-six percent of the city’s roadways were in poor or fair condition in fiscal year 2021.
“On average, city roads outlive their useful life by 20 percent before being resurfaced or reconstructed, presenting a source of danger for the period of time between the end of their useful life and resurfacing or reconstruction,” the report reads.
Sinkhole complaints increased in the first four months of the 2022 fiscal year compared to the same period the previous year, the report notes. They have otherwise declined in recent years, with complaints down by 25 percent in 2021 over the previous year.
The report also covers heat waves, which strain various forms of infrastructure, and the threat of flooding to the city’s waterfront communities, just as it nears the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. It likewise explores climate resiliency efforts and the frequency of cave-ins and the city’s historic response to them.