90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
Here and Now with Robin Young
Public radio's live
midday news program
With sponsorship from
Mathworks - Accelerating the pace of engineering and science
Accelerating the pace
of engineering and science
Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How To Prepare For The Next Superstorm Sandy

Road construction signs are seen in April, in Springfield, Ill. Much of America’s infrastructure, including its interstate highway system, is more than half a century old and in need of serious work to keep pace with a rising population. (Seth Perlman/AP)

Journalist and author David Cay Johnston has said both New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo could become president, if they follow through on promises made to recover from Sandy, such as getting utilities to get the power back on faster.

But keeping recovery promises is going to be costly.

Cuomo has said it will take $42 billion for New York to bounce back. Christie has estimated that Sandy caused at least $37 billion in damages in New Jersey.

In a cover story for Newsweek called “12 Ways to Stop the Next Sandy,” David Cay Johnston wondered who will pay the long overdue bill on American infrastructure.

He pointed out that the U.S. spends just 2.4 percent of its economy on infrastructure, compared with 5 percent in Europe and 9 percent in China.

Johnston suggested ways to improve infrastructure so that a superstorm can’t wreak as much havoc as Sandy did. For example, replace ageing natural gas pipelines, stop telecommunications companies from shutting down the old copper wire telephone system and promote smaller electrical grids instead of the vast multi-state ones that currently exist.

He also suggested drumming up support for infrastructure projects by posting signs showing drivers how old and out-of-date their bridges are.


Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • John DePaula

    Great guest!  Is a transcript of this show available?  I’d like to get an exact quote from the piece about “private wealth is predicated by common wealth” or some such.

    • DavidCayJohnston

      My phrase is that “all private wealth is built on a foundation of commonwealth.” 

      This is a principle the Framers clearly understood, unlike a host of current Washington officials and most journalists. It is the publicly paid for common goods — from roads to education to clean water — that enable commerce. THE FINE PRINT shows that we are replacing granite foundations with sand, which washes away in storms as we literally saw with Hurricane Sandy.

  • Michael M. Ross

    What we call “utility
    poles”, the physical backbone of the electrical transmission system, would have been a
    familiar site in the Civil War, when telegraphy came of age. When they were
    co-opted for the purpose of electrical transmission in the late 19th
    century it was understood to be a makeshift solution – not a permanent one.
    This fact has been forgotten. In our day and age, they are an increasingly
    anachronistic marker of American decline: labyrinthine eyesores strung with
    spaghetti cables, snuggled against overgrown trees, and exposed to all the
    elements of nature.  And this is the infrastructure we rely on to light our homes,
    run our furnaces, power our modems and routers, and supply the towers that
    transmit our cell phone calls. 

  • Maggie

    It seems like the improvements are innevitable, it has been for a long time now.  It is exiting to just hear new community developing ideas, I just hope that including the addition of mass transportation, like fast trains (yes! like in Europe) are made part of it and that the visionaries suggesting these improvements work together to avoid the demolition of roads/structures that have just been built to accommodate utilities improvements and viceversa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Fulton/100000019043153 Dan Fulton

    See and read description with video:

  • Concerned Citizen

    I would also like to read a transcript. You mentioned a book, I think, but I didn’t catch the title.

    • DavidCayJohnston

      THE FINE PRINT is the title of my book, the third in a series. The first two, Perfectly Legal and Free Lunch, were NYTimes/WallStJournal bestsellers and the first won the Investigative Book of the Year award and is widely used as a college text on tax policy.

      I hope you read my book, which took four years of digging into issue sthat you have not read about in the news, where I was an investigative reporter for four decades.

  • Em

    Why don’t we spend some money on slowing down climate change. The 2008 documentary Six Degrees Could Change The World mentioned all of New York City’s vulnerabilities, but let’s also focus on preventing horrible storms. We need to invest in clean energy!

  • djgagne

    As you talk about the cost to utilities of putting wires, etc underground, and having to get price increases to do so.  How about utility companies that are presently giving their employees a 10% bonus each year!!  Do these companies really need a price increase?  Or do they just need better management and maybe a little competition!!

    • DavidCayJohnston

      Details, please. And do you mean executives or line workers? In the last two decades the number of utility workers has fallen by a fourth while the national population has grown by a fourth. THE FINE PRINT shows how utilities got rate hikes, especially New Jersey water, and then demanded huge pay cuts from their workers.

  • michael leonard

    Keep your ears tuned to San Diego this week. The CPUC will reveal whether the ratepayers will be liable for SDG&E’s criminal lack of action that led to the 2007 wildfires. Their parent, Sempra Energy, is a privately-owned public utility.
    SDG&E has been billing customers for undergrounding costs for 10 years, but still has only completed less than 10% of the city. Pathetic!

  • Krshutter

    Before we generalize all utility companies, know that some do update infrastructure and listen to members . They’re called cooperatives and do not operate like investor owned utilities. Many people do not know the difference and do not realize that they have a choice to use these companies in disputed territories. Also, they have pruning regulations for taking care of right away areas and trees. They don’t just ‘hack’ people’s yards. Cooperatives were founded on providing service to those in need. They only exist because of their members. Don’t forget about these utilities and the great services they provide. They are made up of great people.

    • DavidCayJohnston

      My book shows how nonprofit electric utilities generally charge far less and provide more reliable service and I show how corporate-owned utilities are the ones being stripped of assets. NJ only has corporate power.

  • Stephen Jeffery

    George Bush reportedly spent $15 billion replacing oceanfront homes, 15000 @ $1million each after Katrina where owners failed to buy flood insurance.  FEMA does not have the authority to do this and it was done as a pilot project.  Jeb Bush reportedly had to refund to FEMA $100 million for unauthorized reconstruction from hurricane damage including demolishing and rebuilding a home for $800k.  US citizens are not responsible for maintaining the tax base of vulnerable communities, especially where many high risk structures are vacation rentals.  And certainly not when owners fail to buy flood insurance.  It is impossible to hold back the ocean for the entire coast. Utilities are deferring maintenance since FEMA replaces storm damaged infrastructure. The incentives are all wrong.  Profits are being privatized and costs socialized. SJ

  • DavidCayJohnston

    Thanks for the comments here. In addition you may want to read my op-ed in today;s New York Times on the telecommunications cartel.

    • JimStockton

      Thanks for your work, David.  The bit about potholes came across my radio just a few minutes after I mentioned to a coworker how last week I drove from Ohio to Montana and was struck by just how poor the interstate system is.  Awful asphalt, cracking bridges, rusted or missing guardrails…  Sounds like I should check out Stockholm!

Robin and Jeremy

Robin Young and Jeremy Hobson host Here & Now, a live two-hour production of NPR and WBUR Boston.

September 16 7 Comments

Kathy Gunst Explores Community Supported Agriculture

Kathy Gunst joins Cook's Illustrated executive food editor Keith Dresser at his CSA pickup and offers recipes for the seasonal CSA fare.

September 16 11 Comments

Remembering Jesse Winchester

Jimmy Buffett remembers his friend the late songwriter Jesse Winchester, whose posthumous album is being released today.

September 15 26 Comments

A Call To Reject Corporal Punishment As Part Of Black Culture

An incident of child abuse by an NFL player has raised questions about the use of corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the African-American community.

September 15 28 Comments

Would You Pay To Get Your Kid Into A Top College?

A San Francisco company charges parents for a consulting package based on the odds their student will get into a certain university, with prices up to a million dollars.