NEWS10 Special Report: Under Our Feet

Take a look at the aging infrastructure underneath the Capital Region

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The numbers speak for themselves: hundreds of problems with water mains and broken pipes were recorded across the Capital District just in 2015 alone.

NEWS10 ABC did some digging into story archives to learn how many major main breaks, leaks and collapses were covered over the past year. Most of them were caused by worn out infrastructure that’s in need of replacement or repair.

So how bad is the problem? NEWS10 cameras went underneath for a firsthand look.

Hundreds of miles of roads connect the Capital District. They’re traveled on every day, but beneath the historic streets, a lot goes unnoticed.

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Miles of piping are crumbling right beneath our feet, and when things start to break down, it’s not a pretty picture at the surface.

Multiple main breaks have become the norm in the Capital Region. Most recently in Troy, a break shut down taps for close to a week. And according to Albany City Water Commissioner Joe Coffey, Troy is far from alone.

“I’ve been here since the first part of 2014, and we’ve probably had maybe 100 and some water main breaks,” he said. “When we get parts of our system that are over 100 years old, that really has exceeded the lifetime of cast iron pipe.”

NEWS10 ABC went to the source of it all – the aging bowels of the district. You don’t need to be an engineer to know the sewer under Brookline Avenue doesn’t look right.

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It’s cracking and disintegrating from age like many of its neighbors.

Coffey says between 30 percent and 35 percent of local water lines predate 1900.

“A 12-inch water main that was put in 1851 right in city hall and goes up Washington Avenue,” he explained. “That’s the oldest known water pipe that we have in the city.”

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Coffey showed a map the city keeps of all documented lines. Many were only discovered through excavation projects. He said many are made of brick and slate, and in nearby communities, representatives said the lines are even more archaic.

“We are sitting atop pipes that may be as old as 145 years,” Coffey said. “We are dealing with major communities having wooden pipes.”

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U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko has become a champion for fixing the innards of the Capital Region infrastructure.

“It’s a commodity that’s essential,” he said.

Despite its urgency, he said the problems have remained unsolved since they can’t be seen until problems erupt.

“Well, it’s an out of sight, out of mind mentality,” he said. “We may trade in our cell phones because they’re no longer the most high tech, but we’re content to live with our drinking water pipes for 145 years? It doesn’t make sense.”

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The fix is funding for repairs and replacements, but it’s something federal and state governments have struggled to find, especially for projects of such a large proportion. But just how much money would it take to replace the entire water system for one city in the Capital Region?

“Perhaps a $320 billion investment, so we have a long way to go,” Tonko claimed.

“If somebody wrote us a check for $500 million we would be happy to replace nearly all of our water system,” Coffey said.

So where does the money come from, and how is it acquired? Capital District transportation director Michael Franchini said it can’t and won’t happen overnight. That’s why the push needs to start now. noel6

“You really want to spread that cost out,” he said. “You don’t want to have it happen all at one time. Say 25 years out from now having this huge expense of replacing infrastructure when you could spread it out over the life of the system itself.”

Tonko and other public officials seem to agree. Tonko said the bulk of the funding needs to come from the federal government, and it can’t fall on the shoulders of the taxpayers who simply inherited the problem and will continue to pass it on to their children.

He said he’s making it his mission, but he has a long way to go.

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