ALBANY — The condition of New York’s roads and bridges is at risk, and key infrastructure projects could be delayed if the Hochul government doesn’t increase transportation spending, local government supporters said.
Despite a record inflow of federal funds from last year’s Infrastructure Act, New York’s construction projects have taken a financial hit from rising material costs and other inflationary forces disrupting the economy, these advocates and representatives from various industry groups say.
Funding for the state’s Department of Transportation’s core mission, they said in a letter to Gov. Kathy Hochul, is now at its lowest level since 2015 due to increased costs for infrastructure projects.
“All people have to do to see what’s going on on our streets is just get in their car and see for themselves because it’s obvious.” said Michael Elmendorf, President and CEO of New York State’s Associated General Contractors. He was one of more than a dozen business leaders who endorsed the letter to Hochul, which was also supported by heads of local government groups.
One reason for the urgency of the plea for more funding now, Elmendorf said, stems from a decision state officials made last year to withdraw about $2.6 billion from funding for infrastructure projects.
Elmendorf said that was the decision “disturbing.”
“Back then we saw the worst decline in road conditions since we have recorded data and we have some of the worst road and bridge conditions in the country.” said Elmendorf.
Meanwhile, various factors are causing the cost of building materials to skyrocket, he added.
The January 17 letter to Hochul states: “It is critical that an additional $1.128 billion be added to the 2023-24 budget for state and local highway construction just to keep funding at the same level as when the five-year program was originally passed in 2022.”
From July 2020 to last July, the price of steel used in New York projects rose 115%, while fuel costs rose 256% and asphalt costs rose 77.5%, according to the groups supporting a ramp-up Demand financing for roads and bridges.
Sarah Brancatella, Legislative Director and Advisor to the Association of Towns, said decisions related to funding for New York’s transportation infrastructure will have profound and widely felt consequences.
“Not only municipalities have to deal with this problem” Brancatella told CNHI. “This is a matter that concerns every single person in the state or who wishes to come to New York to do business.”
On a personal level, if roads aren’t maintained properly and on schedule, motorists can face hefty repair bills, not to mention the safety risks of driving on roads that can be dangerous, she added.
Senior Senate Transportation Committee member Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Otsego County, said local highway departments rely heavily on state funding for roads and bridges.
Many communities have roads that need major overhauls, with new culverts and new drainage, not just surface resurfacing to bridge the rough spots, Oberacker said.
“Laying asphalt over roads looks great, but it can be like building a house on shaky foundations.” he observed. Just addressing the immediate needs, the senator said, can lead to that “Throwing good money after bad”
In an audit released last year, state auditor Tom DiNapoli raised concerns about how state officials were managing the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Fund and suggested projects were being implemented “missed out” because the state directed much of the funding to repay debts from previous projects and to cover government agency costs.
“It’s time for New York to change tack and use the money from the Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund for critical repairs and increase pay-as-you-go projects like the fund was created.” DiNapoli said in a statement at the time.
Regarding federal funds New York expects from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, DiNapoli said: “We cannot afford to miss this historic opportunity.”
The Hochul government is expected to release the state’s fiscal year 2023-24 spending plan by February 1.
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