On an evening in early June, hundreds of New York subway commuters riding the F train found themselves trapped underground for more than forty-five minutes. The air conditioning was broken, the lights had been cut off, and there were few clear announcements about what was happening. “Claustrophobia, panic, and heat exhaustion began to set in for many folks,” one passenger reported on Facebook. Some started to remove their clothes to combat the heat. Others shared water with those around them. Doors were pried open to help air circulate. Eventually, another train arrived to help and slowly pushed the stalled one to the next station.
That grim scene was only the latest and most extreme in a series of recent events exposing the decrepit state of a New York City public-transportation system that is falling apart, marked by delays, overcrowding, breakdowns, power outages, and safety concerns. But most Americans, even those unacquainted with the glories of the Metropolitan Transit Authority, wouldn’t exactly be surprised: the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent report gave the country’s infrastructure an overall grade of D-plus, concluding that many of our bridges, dams, roads, airports, water systems, and more are on the verge of obsolescence or failure.
Which is why it was darkly fitting that New York’s subway debacle unfolded on the very day that the Trump administration kicked off its “infrastructure week,” a series of announcements and events that didn’t include an actual infrastructure plan. Trump campaigned on a supposed $1 trillion infrastructure package, and after the election his chief strategist Steve Bannon crowed that it would be “the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up.” It would create millions of jobs and prove Trump was a different kind of Republican. Instead, Trump merely unveiled a promise to privatize the air-traffic-controllers system and a six-page “fact sheet” that vaguely sketches his infrastructure priorities.