A WCBS 880 Special Report Series By Alex Silverman

NEW YORK (WCBS 880) — History judges us by how we react.

“When the West Side Highway collapsed — fell to the ground — in 1973, we should have known then that we had an impending, dangerous crisis coming up,” said former city traffic commissioner Sam Schwartz.

But instead, “Fifteen people died in the 1980s in bridge collapses. That’s what it took for the city, for the region, to react.”

When we started this series eight weeks ago, the warning signs had already piled up – on paper, in statistics and if you’re a commuter – probably in your experience.

“When everybody realizes it’s a problem, that’s when we can solve a problem,” said a hopeful Phil Plotch, who used to manage planning at the MTA.

So how have we responded?

A series of derailments forced Amtrak to finally undertake major repairs at Penn Station.

The “Summer of Hell” hasn’t been as infernal as many expected, so the label got slapped on the subway, which got new leadership and an $800 million rescue plan. But we still don’t know if it will be paid for by a tax on the rich, congestion pricing or something else entirely.

Even if the money does magically appear…

“We have to suffer for a number of years,” Schwartz said. “There’s no getting around that.”

Aside from federal money, which is going to be essential in the long run, Alex Silverman asked the experts what we can do better – big picture – and got a pretty consistent answer.

“There’s no one government organization that thinks about what’s best of the region,” Plotch said.

“I would recommend a regional authority that includes, NJ TRANSIT, PATH,” echoed Schwartz. “With professionals operating it, not with politicians coming up with their ideas and schemes. We’d be much better off.”

Is that idealistic?

“I’ve only been around for a half century in transportation, and I remain idealistic,” he said.

“Right now, what we have is the worst of both words,” said Tom Wright, of the Regional Plan Association. “When things go well, the politicians will take credit for it. But when they fail, they will say, ‘Well I’m not in charge. Who me?’ We can’t go with that any longer.”

We are New Yorkers, after all, so we’re never going to be completely satisfied with our transportation system. But we’ve come this close to the breaking point, and we know what we have to do.

Find more from “The Breaking Point” by clicking here.

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