Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

U.S. Representative Joe Crowley | Photo: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880

U.S. Representative Joe Crowley | Photo: Alex Silverman/WCBS 880

WINNERS

Jersey City, NJ Mayor Steve Fulop - Testifying before Congress this week, Mayor Fulop used the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail as an example of a successful transportation investment that has revitalized Jersey City.

U.S. Representative Joe Crowley - Congressman Crowley, who represents Queens and the Bronx, announced his national “Bike to Work Act,” which would allow commuters to pay for bike share memberships with pre-tax income.

U.S. Representative Jim Himes - The Representative from Connecticut called on Congress to find a long-term solution to the nation’s infrastructure needs.

Douglaston, Queens - City agencies have come together to reverse the deteriorating conditions in the neighborhood surrounding the Douglaston LIRR station, initiating the creation of a new pedestrian plaza. The activity has already attracted several new businesses to the area.

Perth Amboy, NJ - NJ Transit has allocated $9.6 million for the renovation of Perth Amboy station, which will be the cornerstone project of plans to create a transit village in the city.
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Land Banking: A Tool to Facilitate Equitable TOD

Vacant and abandoned properties present a variety of challenges to municipalities: they degrade the aesthetic appeal of neighborhoods, pose safety risks and lower the value of surrounding properties. Communities burdened by vacant property also miss out on considerable revenue — while local governments face increased maintenance costs. And more often than not, attempts to redevelop these properties are thwarted by complicated tax foreclosure processes.

To help alleviate these headaches, some communities are enacting legislation to create land banks, which would acquire and manage abandoned properties so they can be saved for development and returned to productive uses.

One such productive use that land banks can help cities achieve is equitable transit-oriented development (ETOD). When municipalities establish land banks with the goal of creating ETOD, they’re not simply collecting underutilized land; they’re taking the first steps toward improving access to economic opportunity and housing choice for low-income people.

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NJDOT’s 2015 Proposed Transportation Capital Program: A Better Future in Sight?

NJ-cap-prog-14-15

It appears as if NJDOT will dedicate less funding for road and bridge expansion projects than in previous years. But will this shift in priorities be short-lived?

The New Jersey Department of Transportation’s 2015 draft Transportation Capital Program, which lays out the agency’s planned transportation investments for all roads, bridges and transit in the state, dedicates a lot less funding for road and bridge expansion projects than in previous years. But will this shift in priorities be short-lived?

Two of 2014’s largest expansion projects—the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridge, which received $36 million in the 2014 capital program* and Route 295/42 Direct Connect, which received almost $79 million in the 2014 program—are not in the 2015 proposed document, but will be in future capital programs.

TSTC reached out to NJDOT regarding the Direct Connect project and learned that because the agency funded earlier contracts in their entirety, the next contract is scheduled for 2016. In addition, according to the draft capital program, contracts for the Manahawkin bridge project will resume in 2016 at $22 million, with plans to spend nearly $145 million on the project from 2016-2024.

The silver lining is that the 2015 draft capital program shows what future capital programs could look like if NJDOT were to focus on maintaining existing assets and cut back on large-scale expansion projects. According to TSTC’s analysis**, there are nine road or bridge expansion projects comprising about 3 percent (approximately $54 million) of this year’s proposed capital program funds, as compared to nearly 10 percent ($185 million) of the 2014 program funds.

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Advocates Tour CTfastrak Bus Rapid Transit System

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Representatives from transportation and environmental advocacy organizations (including Tri-State) joined the Connecticut Department of Transportation for a tour of the CTfastrak bus rapid transit (BRT) system on Thursday. The tour was organized by Transit for Connecticut and led by ConnDOT’s Mike Sanders and Maureen Lawrence.

Here are a few photos from Thursday’s tour:

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Tappan Zee Bridge Financial Details Finally Released to the Public

FOIA-TZB

Tappan Zee Bridge Project TIFIA-Eligible Costs, Sources and Uses of Funds, as provided to TSTC on July 17, 2014 by the Federal Highway Administration in response to appeal of Tappan Zee Bridge Financial Plan Freedom of Information Act request.

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Controversial Clean Water Loan Proceeds, in the Dark

“Is this any way to execute a major infrastructure project?”

So concludes today’s editorial from the Syracuse Post, hometown paper to State Senator John DeFrancisco, one of three sitting members on the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) who, yesterday, rubber-stamped a raid of clean water funds to pay for the New New York Bridge construction projects.

Only a few weeks ago, DeFrancisco offered fighting words that provided hope to the advocacy community that has been shut out of the decision-making process on this controversial loan. In an interview with Capital Tonight’s Liz Benjamin, the Senator stated: “I have no compunction at all about voting ‘no’ if it’s not the proper use of money or there’s not a full financing plan, because the people should know how they’re paying for this thing.” And yet, the PACB—including Senator DeFrancisco—unanimously approved the first installment of $511 million in low-interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, despite the fact that a full financing plan was not provided either to the PACB or the public.

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Thursday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New York State Senator Bill Perkins | Photo: nysenate.gov

New York State Senator Bill Perkins Photo: nysenate.gov

WINNERS

New York State Senator and Public Authorities Control Board Member Bill Perkins – Senator Perkins penned a letter to Governor Cuomo regarding the Environmental Facilities Corporation loan that points to “an entire host of outstanding questions and legal concerns surrounding this project that have not been answered to the satisfaction of anyone.”

Amazon warehouse workers in Robbinsville, NJ – Amazon is now providing free shuttle service to employees at its Robbinsville warehouse - a promising example of a developer filling the funding gap in a state so strapped for transit funding.

NJ Transit riders - There is no fare increase in the agency’s approved budget for the fifth consecutive year.

New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer - In a new report, the Comptroller cites TSTC’s Complete Streets Liability Primer, which shows how Complete Streets can not only prevent injuries, but also protect governments from potential liabilities associated with traffic incidents.

Staten Island Mall owner General Growth Properties - General Growth Properties is filing a parking exemption request with the City so it can replace 281 “underutilized” parking spaces with expanded retail space.
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White House Report: Without Federal Funding, 81,664 Tri-State Jobs May be at Risk

As the clock ticks down on the Highway Trust Fund’s (HTF) solvency and the threat that the US Department of Transportation will slow down and lower reimbursements to state departments of transportation hangs in the air, the National Economic Council and the President’s Council of Economic Advisers have released a new report showing just how much worse things could get for each state.

The report, “An Economic Analysis of Transportation Infrastructure Investment” (and online map), details the conditions of each state’s roads and bridges and the economic consequences — both micro and macro — of delaying transportation funds. The report calls for the passage of the President’s GROW AMERICA Act as well as immediate Congressional action to make sure the HTF does not go broke this summer. (Transportation for America also released a report that looked at federal funding for states and what each state would lose if the HTF went bankrupt.)

Some of the report’s findings for Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and the nation are below. The entire chart, along with explanations, are here and here.

Miles of Public Road Percent of Roads in Poor Condition Number of Bridges Percent of Deficient or Obsolete Bridges Federal Funds as a Percent of Capital Outlays Estimated Annual Jobs at Risk Active Highway Projects Active Transit Grants Vehicle Repair and Operating Costs per Driver
CT 21,414 41% 4,218 35% 53% 9,612 1,630 89 $661.26
NJ 39,213 35% 6,566 36% 21% 23,663 1,311 66 $604.88
NY 114,592 23% 17,442 39% 44% 48,389 6,402 211 $504.90
Entire U.S.* 4,076,236 14% 607,751 10% 44% 779,469 112,514 5,642 $444.47

The House has reached an interim deal to replenish the HTF; now all eyes are on the Senate. This is good news for now, but to ensure that transportation projects receive funds in the long-term, a multi-year bill is needed, with a sustainable, stable funding source.

*The report notes that “65 percent of America’s major roads are rated in less than good condition, one in four bridges require significant repair or cannot handle today’s traffic.”

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Criticism of Tappan Zee EFC Loan Piling Up

A pivotal moment in the three-step approval process for the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) loan to fund the Tappan Zee Bridge project will happen tomorrow when the Public Authorities Control Board will take up discussion of the loan. Unanimous approval from the board is required for the loan to move forward to its next and final vote by the NYS Thruway Authority Board. In the wake of the EFC Board’s unanimous vote of approval, and in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote, the media has been nearly overwhelmed by criticism of the many facets of the controversial loan:

FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY

Conclusively, as a matter of both law and public policy, I cannot support this proposal and, in fact believe that it should be withdrawn or left to fail on its merits, or lack thereof. Furthermore, as a member of the Public Authorities Control Board, I feel duty-bound by Section 51(3) of the Public Authorities Law to advocate against the passage of this proposal because it fails the necessary statutory test by being totally without “commitments of funds sufficient to finance the acquisition and construction of such project.”
- Bill Perkins, New York State Senator

From Day One we’ve been waiting for a complete financing plan that would include the all-important toll structure. Even after the feds came through with a $1.5 billion loan that required the filing of a financial plan, we still don’t know squat. Every attempt to FOIL the information has been denied by both the feds and the state, for no good reason.
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Fred LeBrun, Albany Times Union

In a two-page letter, the feds denied Juva-Brown’s [FOIL] request, saying the Thruway Authority had advised them to do so. The U.S. Department of Transportation said Cuomo’s financial plan — the basis for a $1.6 billion loan request — was “hypothetical,” “misleading” and “inaccurate.”  DOT spokeswoman Nancy Singer didn’t quite answer how that could be. “New York met the requirements” for the loan, she said.
- Andrea Bernstein, Senior Editor for Politics & Policy, WNYC

When there was a discussion about the Tappan Zee Bridge, I tried to get the executive director of the Thruway Authority to tell me how they were financing the bridge and there were no answers. They were going to appoint somebody and so forth. So, that’s one thing I want to get out of that meeting when it happens is that in order to decide one component of financing, you gotta know the whole financial package.
- John DeFrancisco, New York State Senator

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Public Authorities Control Board Must Get Answers to Important Questions Before Approving EFC TZB Loan

According to a 2008 report from the DEC regarding wastewater infrastructure needs of NYS, "The need documented in the [CWNS] 2008 survey is expected to be  significantly higher than the 2004 CWNS." | Photo: EPA's Clean Watershed Needs Survey, 2004.

According to a 2008 report from the DEC, “Looking at long-term capital costs, New York’s wastewater infrastructure needs continue to rise, as documented in EPA’s recently published CWNS.” | Photo: EPA’s Clean Watershed Needs Survey, 2004.

As the New NY Bridge construction project continues into its second summer season, questions persist about the transparency and legitimacy of the financial plan for the project. A few weeks ago, Governor Cuomo announced that the New York State Thruway Authority would be receiving $511.45 million in low- and no-interest loans from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF). The fund is traditionally used to upgrade water infrastructure across the state – through the NYS Environmental Facilities Corporation, which jointly administers the funds with the Department of Environmental Conservation. The announcement that the loans would pay for many environmental mitigation projects related to the bridge project and the circumvented public review and legislative process to enable this loan riled up environmental, transportation and government groups statewide. The “unconventional” use was noted by EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, scores of elected officials and seven newspaper editorials.

As noted by Tri-State and others in a letter to the EFC, projects receiving CWSRF funds must be included in the Intended Use Plan – the list of projects to be funded for a given year. The bridge construction project was not in the version made available for public review and comment earlier this year, but rather only added by amendment as a “minor modification” last month along with seven other projects totaling approximately $130 million, bringing the total request of funds to $641 million.
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