When the clock-radio news interrupted their dreams yesterday morning, New York commuters had reason to groan. A burst water main below Canal Street temporarily halted some subway service in lower Manhattan, and a cave-in of part of the roadway meant no traffic on portions of Canal and Broadway.
As in most large cities throughout the United States, the issue of aging infrastructure is a serious and expensive problem for New York. With 47 major bridges, 6,100 miles of sewage lines, 6,200 miles of roads (with some 700,000 potholes last year), the job of maintaining and rebuilding the city's physical structure is a top issue on the agenda of city officials.
Some neglected repairs throughout the city and state are finally getting done with new funds available through capital spending programs and a bond issue passed recently by New York voters.
Gov. Mario M. Cuomo, speaking at a gathering of civil engineers and state and city officials concerned with infrastructure problems, said that the state of such roads as Manhattan's FDR Drive is ''as elegant an argument as any for rebuilding'' the decaying roadways, bridges, water supply facilities, tunnels, trains, and subways.
The city has allocated more than $1.8 billion for capital improvements in 1984. Add to this the Metropolitan Transit Authority's $8.5 billion, five-year spending program, and the city's share of the $1.25 billion transportation bond issue approved by voters in November, and some say a serious beginning can be made in repairing the infrastructure.
But a beginning is all that it represents, say these same observers. One estimate is that New York State could spend as much as $105 billion on public works through the year 2000. Many call upon the federal government to pick up part of the load in the rebuilding process throughout the country.
''Government has an important role to play in maintaining the foundation upon which a thriving private economy can be constructed,'' said Mayor Edward I. Koch at the conference. ''But, government has neglected its responsibility and today that foundation is in serious disrepair.''
Mr. Koch and others call for the federal government to implement a federal capital budget to address the issue of the nation's infrastructure. Some suggest the creation of an agency like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in the 1930s to spark a cohesive national plan.
With national attention focused on public works, many point out that the rebuilding can provide jobs to the unemployed. And calls for infrastructure repair often include references to public-works type programs.
''It is all very labor intensive,'' points out Carl J. Turkstra of the Polytechnic Institute of New York in Brooklyn. ''There are a large number of jobs per dollar spent.''
Dr. Turkstra says civil engineers have new technology to offer. Instead of starting over, engineers are finding ways to rebuild old structures. This has bred sophisticated new processes, such as ways to recycle pavement.