Staten Island Road Widening Squeezes Out Reform in New NYSDOT Capital Plan

Last year, Gov. Paterson vetoed NYSDOT’s proposed five-year capital program, calling the $25.8 billion plan “unaffordable” given the state’s fiscal condition. In his budget, he proposed a two-year, $7 billion program instead. Last week, NYSDOT showed what that bare-bones plan would look like, releasing a new draft that cuts a promising smart growth program.

There is little room in the new program for anything but maintenance and repair of the State’s road and bridge infrastructure (which was largely true of the old one as well). In fact, NYSDOT warns that the plan is “not sufficient to maintain existing levels of statewide bridge and pavement conditions.” Despite this, the program still includes $78 million for an extension of the Staten Island Expressway’s “bus lane” — which was opened to carpools with as few as two occupants in 2008 (perhaps illegally), raising questions about whether this is still a worthy transit project.

Cuts to Sustainable Transportation Initiatives

NYSDOT's smart growth efforts have produced some promising tools, but have stagnated without agency leadership and now may be significantly cut back.

Cut completely is a $25 million smart growth corridor planning program to foster “community and corridor land use planning initiatives” and provide technical assistance and land use planning for three to five corridor investment strategies and 50 smaller “livable community planning grants.”

This program is integral if NYSDOT is to go beyond the baby steps it has taken in linking transportation and land use.  A modest investment in smart growth will save New York State money in the long run, as smarter land use development that encourages transit supportive densities and walkable and bikeable communities curtails the demand for expensive road widenings.

The plan also reduces funding for the popular Local Safe Streets and Traffic Calming Grant Program by $1 million a year, bringing the total proposed funding allocation for the two year plan to $3 million.  In addition, there is no line item to fund the SafeSeniors program, a program to create safer walking environments for seniors that is being piloted on Long Island.

The plan cuts operating support for non-MTA transit agencies from $68 million to $50 million a year, continuing the state’s inconsistent record of support for smaller transit agencies.

Maintained for Now

The new draft program maintains $2 million for the Sheridan Expressway project in the Bronx, most likely to complete the environmental reviews that are necessary before NYSDOT can make a decision on whether to keep or tear down the lightly used stub highway.  The first component of Long Island’s Route 347 Green Vision Plan is also earmarked for funding, although nothing is mentioned about the project’s out years.

The new plan also maintains the previous draft’s level of funding for high-speed rail at an average of $60 million a year.

Image: Slide from a NYSDOT Smart Planning Program presentation.

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