NYS Budget: Transportation wins and what’s next

The 2015 NYS budget season has come to a close with a final revenue bill that includes some key victories for our business community and critical infrastructure.

On the whole, the budget has been a great success for the economic future of the State.

In addition to the much-publicized 10-year extension of the Brownfield Cleanup Program, another major win includes a two year reauthorization for the state’s Design-Build program.

design buildThe program, a surprise late addition to the budget, does not contain the proposed project labor agreement which was expected to eliminate otherwise cost and efficiency advantages that the program would provide.

This is a tremendous win for all of Upstate.

The agreement includes the execution of a study of the program that, upon expiration, will delineate the cost and schedule advantages that Design-Build has provided and likely make the case for a permanent program.

On the transit side of things, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) received a much-needed boost to both the bottom line and infrastructure.

The agency received a $2.5 million boost from State Transit Operating Assistance to help stem projected budget shortfalls.

Additionally, $3.9 million in capital funds was provided for the critical repairs needed to metro-rail stations as well as the acquisition of several new buses.

This commitment is a part of a larger $27 million package, spread out over several years, to fund repair work required for subsurface station escalators.

These wins are significant steps forward for 2015, but we still have a long way to go to properly fund transportation infrastructure in New York State.

A number of current and future asks remain on our Legislative Agenda for this year.

april 23 blog photo of carsThe top priority is revamping the mechanisms for funding transportation state-wide and across the country.

As we have claimed before, the gas tax has not been raised since 1993 and is levied on a per-gallon basis.

So, while we are traveling on our roads more than ever before, fuel efficient vehicles have actually reduced our gasoline consumption.

This is great news for the environment, but our ability to properly fund our infrastructure has taken a major hit. Other transportation revenues, such as the thruway tolls, get siphoned off for other, non-transportation activities.

At the federal level, the government has yet to agree upon and pass a long-term transportation funding bill.

This results in year-to-year Band-Aids with no comprehensive vision for smart infrastructure investment.

How are we going to better fund maintenance of our roads and bridges?

How can we invest in significant highways and logistics corridors such as Route 219?

How are we going to fund a more robust transit network?

Band-Aids and temporary funding will not answer these questions.

As we have carried since our 2014 Transportation Summit, as well as at previous conferences, we need New York State to take a long, hard look at how we can better fund our transportation infrastructure.

That must be a top priority, state-wide, moving forward.