By Assemblyman Will Barclay
I recently joined several local highway officials in Albany to advocate for an increase in state aid for local roads and bridges.
With budget negotiations under way, we cannot short change our localities and provide them with funding that is inadequate to keep roads and bridges passable.
New York has a state and local highway system that annually handles more than 130 billion vehicle miles. It is a system that encompasses more than 113,000 highway miles and more than 17,400 bridges. Amazingly, local governments are responsible for nearly 87% of the roads and for about one-half of the bridges.
In order to help localities maintain roads, each year the state provides them with funding under the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs). This year, the Governor is proposing to provide $363.1 million in CHIPs funding. This is the same level that CHIPs has been funded at since 2008. Unfortunately, this amount is not sufficient to allow localities to maintain or improve their part of our highway system. With no increases, obviously, CHIPs funding is not keeping pace with inflation or increased costs, as the price of fuel, asphalt and materials has seen triple digit increases during the past decade.
Without adequate maintenance and continued investment in our infrastructure, we risk losing the assets that we have.
That very thing happened in 2009 when New York and Vermont were forced to shut down the Crown Point Bridge. The bridge was beyond rehabilitation and was closed for nearly two years. It cost taxpayers $70 million to replace. Area businesses experienced disruption and medical service was put at risk with its sudden closure. Resulting detours created headaches for all residents who depended on the bridge.
The State Comptroller recently released a report entitled “Cracks in the Foundation” which concluded that 32% of our bridges in NY and 40% of our road pavements are rated fair or poor and getting worse. In the same report, the Comptroller estimates that there will be $89 billion in unmet infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, with the majority of this shortfall on the already deteriorating local transportation system.
Maintaining roads and bridges is critical to keeping our communities viable and attracting future economic opportunities as well. We’re on the brink of an economic recovery but in order for this to continue, our infrastructure has to be maintained. We need to improve our chances of job creators locating here. One of the first questions they have when considering a location is about infrastructure, such as access to highways, local roads and rail. It’s critical that our roads are maintained.
We have understood at the state level that investment in infrastructure is important. In last year’s budget, we increased funding for state roads by $1.16 billion under the New York Works program.
This amount is being used in addition to traditional state capital funds to pay for, among other things, repairs to state bridges and a state pavement preservation program. This year, the Governor is seeking to increase funding under the New York Works program by $300 million: $200 million of this amount is earmarked to improve state and local highways, parkways and bridges and the remaining $100 million is to be dispersed through Regional Economic Development Councils.
Because the State is still facing serious financial constraints, I, along with a number of my colleagues from both the Assembly and the Senate from both sides of the aisle, are proposing that rather than simply adding new money to the CHIPs program, we instead should reallocate the $100 million that the Governor is proposing through NY Works to the Regional Economic Development Councils, to the CHIPs program. This would increase the annual appropriate for CHIPs to $463.1 million.
Moreover, the increase would go directly to our municipalities, providing them with the flexibility and discretion to help repair and improve our local roads, bridges and culverts. This will help keep local taxes down as well.
I am pleased to join local highway superintendents throughout the state in their advocacy campaign to get more money for local roads and bridges. I support their efforts entirely. With budget negotiations underway, I’m urging the Governor to dedicate more funding for localities. It will also help to offset local taxes. Without adequate funding, road repairs will be put on hold or localities will be forced to ask taxpayers to foot the bill.
If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185. You may also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.