Doing Roadwork For The Future

Over the past several weeks, including in a major speech in New York City, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been spelling out his 2019 legislative agenda and touting priorities for the New Year.

I hope Governor Cuomo doesn’t forget to do his roadwork.

After all, the governor recently unveiled his desire for a new $150-billion infrastructure plan next year. That represents a major commitment of taxpayer dollars and the distribution of these resources must fully recognize the potential return on the investment. For me, that means local roads and bridges, which account for 87% of all roads, more than half of all bridges, and nearly 50% of the vehicle mileage logged in New York State.

Over the past several years, Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and I have joined local highway superintendents and other local officials from across New York State to lead the fight in the Legislature for fairer and greater state support for local transportation infrastructure. Commonly known as the “Local Roads Matter” campaign, this effort has been a growing, bipartisan initiative since 2013. Earlier this year, for example, a bipartisan group of 142 senators and members of the Assembly, nearly 70% of the entire New York State Legislature, joined county and town highway superintendents and work crews, and other local leaders from every corner of the state, to call for support for local roads and bridges.

Beginning in 2013, the state’s recognition of the importance of the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), and parity in statewide transportation aid, has made a significant difference for our local governments, local economies, local property taxpayers, and motorist safety locally and statewide. Therefore, we hope that the governor’s proposal for a major new infrastructure improvement plan – and a new infusion of $150 billion in spending on infrastructure is nothing short of major — will be highlighted in 2019 by action to once and for all make New York State’s commitment to local roads and bridges the strongest state-level commitment in the nation.

First, the improvement and upkeep of local transportation infrastructure is a wise use of taxpayer dollars. It is a proven, solid investment. Every additional dollar of state support means a dollar less that our local property taxpayers have to pay. It is also an important investment in economic growth and job creation throughout the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and all across the Empire State.

The 2018-19 budget provided $438 million in base funding for CHIPS. The Legislature also restored a $65-million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation. Beginning with the 2013-14 state budget, CHIPS funding has increased by more than $200 million, or upwards of 40%. A new PAVE-NY program also provides additional funding for local roads. A new BRIDGE-NY program is providing aid for local bridge and culvert projects.

Combined, these programs provide significant funding increases for counties, cities, towns, and villages. Regionally, total aid percentage increases from 2013 to this year have ranged from 45% to 55%.

Nevertheless, it’s not nearly enough. It will never begin to address the long-term need: the state comptroller has estimated that repairing locally owned bridges alone throughout New York State will cost upwards of $28 billion.

Earlier this year, Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State, and President of Rebuild NY Now, said, “Despite some recent progress, the level of investment in our infrastructure remains inadequate to meet our growing needs. As a result, our roads are crumbling and our bridges are deteriorating.” He added that “the future of our communities and our economy depends on” greater state investment in local transportation infrastructure.

We agree. New York State’s commitment to local roads and bridges must become the strongest state-level commitment in America. After all, this commitment is one surefire way to keep moving toward a better state for local property taxpayers, stronger local communities, and sustained economic growth and opportunity.

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