No single advocacy group has stood out more at the Capitol in recent years than New York’s local highway superintendents and all of the men and women working for local highway departments who, day in and day out, do their best to maintain our local roads and bridges.
Last week in Albany, more than 600 “Local Roads Matter” representatives from the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide, turned out in force to deliver once again the message to Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders: A stronger state-local partnership is the only answer.
Or, in the words of Gerald Geist, executive director of the Association of Towns of the State of New York, “The time to address road and bridge funding is now.”
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and I have been at this work since 2013. We have worked to build support within the Legislature for a fairer, more equitable, and stronger state commitment to local roads, bridges, and culverts.
Beginning with the 2013-14 state budget, the “Local Roads Matter” campaign has helped increase funding through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (commonly known as CHIPS) and its funding formula by $240 million, or approximately 40%. Together with two programs established three years ago, PAVE-NY and BRIDGE-NY, significant funding increases have gone to counties, cities, towns, and villages throughout New York. Regionally, for example, aid percentage increases since 2012-13 have ranged from 50% to 55%.
This year we are calling for increasing state base aid for CHIPS by $150 million and the restoration of a $65-million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation enacted last year but not included in Governor Cuomo’s proposed 2019-2020 state budget. We believe it’s warranted — and achievable — given the governor’s push for a new $150-billion infrastructure plan, which includes a new $66-billion investment in transportation. There must be a place in all of that new investment for a stronger state commitment to local roads, bridges, and culverts.
A stronger state-local partnership is the key. Now more than ever, New York State must support a steady, strong, multi-year strategy to address local transportation infrastructure and help build a local transportation system that our communities, motorists, and taxpayers deserve. Local governments face increasingly difficult fiscal constraints due to the tax cap and long-stagnant state aid to municipalities, funding for which has been left even more uncertain this year. State investment in local transportation is fundamentally important to local economic development, job creation, motorist safety, and property tax relief.
Dennis S. Davis, President of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association (NYSCHSA), said, “The hard reality is that local highway departments need a significant boost in the level of state investment to effectively address the daunting financial challenges of maintaining their vast ailing and aging transportation infrastructure.”
Patrick Mahar, President of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways (NYSAOTSOH), added, “Fixing local roads and bridges is similar to repairing the roof or replacing windows on your home. You don’t do it because you want to, you do it because you have to. Businesses need to receive goods, children need to get to school and emergency vehicles need to be able to provide assistance – practically every facet of our daily lives utilizes our local infrastructure system.”
This year’s budget adoption process accelerates this week when the Senate and Assembly Democratic majorities adopt their respective versions of New York’s final 2019-2020 state budget. In other words, they put their priorities on the page in black and white.
It’s a key step in the process, and it sets the stage for a new state budget that the “Local Roads Matter” coalition hopes will produce another positive year for local roads and bridges.