NY Advocates: Federal Law Will Squeeze Local Priorities, but State Leaders Can Stop It

Legislators, staffers, local officials and advocates from across New York gathered in Albany last Wednesday for “Making the Most of Our Transportation Dollars,” an event focused on exploring what New York can and cannot do to assure that the new federal transportation law (MAP-21) doesn’t negatively impact state priorities.

Two speakers grappled with issues relating to this new world of transportation finance. Ron Epstein, Chief Financial Officer of the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), laid out the policy shifts in MAP-21 and the “rough road ahead” caused by increased uncertainty for future federal dollars, most recently highlighted by the sequestration battle, while Nick Donohue, Policy Director for Transportation for America, highlighted two steps New York State could take to compensate for MAP-21’s squeeze on funding for local priorities like bike lanes, buses and bridges.

See chart below for detailed changes resulting from MAP-21

1.  Transfer more funds into the Surface Transportation Program. MAP-21 substantially increased funds (by $177,477,066) for the National Highway System—interstates and other major roads—while eliminating dedicated funds for the repair of local bridges. This means that there will be more competition for limited Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds, forcing communities in New York State to make difficult choices between fixing bridges, building trails and complete streets, improving transit service and other local priorities. However, federal law allows NYSDOT to transfer up to 50 percent of its National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) funding to other programs, such as STP.  By transferring more funds into STP, New York will have more flexibility over the projects it can fund, and it can undo MAP-21’s shift away from local priorities.

2.  Spend more federal safety money on walking and biking. Because MAP-21 cut dedicated funding for pedestrian and bicycle programs by a third,  New York should compensate for that decrease by using federal safety money. Today, 27 percent of New Yorkers killed in traffic crashes are pedestrians or bicyclists, but the state spends less than 1 percent of its Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) funding on these improvements. These funds were doubled in MAP-21, opening up the door for a potential “Fair Share for Safety” policy that could apportion dollars according to fatalities and injuries.

As Epstein cogently pointed out “Each period of great economic expansion followed federal investment in transportation infrastructure.” The trick will be convincing our representatives, whether at the state or federal level, to tackle this funding challenge head on.

Change in Funding Pots resulting from MAP-21:

NHS/NHPP STP* (multimodal) CMAQ (air quality) HSIP  (safety) TA** (bike/ped)
FY12  712,449,632  590,469,049  185,017,178  49,795,653  40,602,083
FY13  889,926,698  409,338,340  176,895,488  97,794,143  28,066,018
Change  177,477,066  (181,130,710)  (8,121,690)  47,998,490  (12,536,065)





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