The $147 billion New York State budget for fiscal year 2016-2017 came to a messy conclusion last week, with legislators pulling all-nighters and voting on bills that they had zero time to review. In the end, transportation won big with the approval of the largest-ever five-year capital programs for the MTA and the New York State Department of Transportation. Unfortunately, it also was a big loser for transparency.
There are still significant grey areas within this budget. The list of projects approved for the $27 billion NYSDOT capital plan won’t be released to legislators–let alone the public–until the Capital Plan Review Board approves the MTA capital plan. This move, all in the name of “parity,” is illogical considering that the MTA’s project list has been publicly available since September of 2014. Language proposed by the Senate in their one-house budget to fix this transparency issue was not included in the final budget, effectively assuring that the opaque process surrounding New Yorkers’ tax dollars will continue unabated.
Here are a few of the budget’s highlights:
- Funding for the $27 billion MTA 2015-2019 capital plan was approved (now 16 months late), including with an $8.3 billion state commitment and a new $2.934 billion appropriation
- The Second Avenue Subway project received an additional $1 billion for its second phase, restoring cuts made from the capital plan last fall
- State Transit Operating Assistance was increased by $157 million (3.5 percent over last year’s budget)
- It still is unclear what kind of support—if any—was given to Long Island Rail Road’s Third Track
- Downstate transit systems will receive an additional $17.4 million (6.1 percent increase) in operating assistance; upstate transit systems will receive an extra $10 million (5.3 percent increase)
- Non-MTA capital projects will receive a total of $84.5 million. Along with expected additional funding from the NYSDOT five-year capital plan, this would mark the first multi-year funding plan for non-MTA transit systems
- Funding for the $27 billion NYSDOT five-year capital plan, which includes funds for roads and bridges, non-MTA transit, rail, aviation and the Thruway Authority, was also approved
- Three new initiatives were included in the budget: BRIDGE NY, PAVE NY and the Extreme Weather Infrastructure Hardening Program
- Thruway Stabilization funding will receive $2 billion, with $700 million for the New NY Bridge
- No $300 million tax break for Thruway drivers. Governor Cuomo claims additional Thruway funds will freeze tolls until at least 2020
- Canal Corporation was transferred from the Thruway Authority to the Power Authority
- No mention of funding for Hudson Links, the proposed enhanced bus service over the New NY Bridge
- In a big loss for multi-modal transportation advocates, there was no dedicated funding for pedestrian and bicycling infrastructure
Since there’s no project list for the NYSDOT capital plan, the only way to know whether a certain project will be funded is through Governor Cuomo’s regional press releases. Here are some highlights from those announcements:
- $97 million to decommission the Sheridan Expressway, which will be replaced with a boulevard
- $159 million for Phase I and $129 million for Phase II for the rehabilitation of the Bruckner Expressway viaduct
- $1 billion for the Javits Center expansion
- Undefined level of support for the redevelopment of Moynihan Station and LaGuardia Airport
- $18.3 million for the next phase of Buffalo’s Cars on Main Street project
- $30 million to replace the Scajaquada Expressway with a boulevard
- $50 million for Ronkonkoma Hub infrastructure improvements
- $5 million for a feasibility study of a tunnel from Long Island to either Westchester, Connecticut or the Bronx.
- $1 million to study a deep water port at the old Shoreham Power Plant
- $6 million to fully fund a Federal Customs Inspection Station at MacArthur Airport
Other Budget Investments of Note:
- $100 million for a new downtown revitalization program
- $950 million for a sixth round of Regional Economic Development Councils
- Formation of construction oversight agency, the New York State Design and Construction Corporation
- Up to $2,000 in rebates for people who buy electric vehicles
Despite historic investments for the MTA and NYSDOT, the budget also had some serious missed opportunities. Governor Cuomo still hasn’t identified where the state’s $8.3 billion commitment to the MTA will come from. Wait times for subway trains are getting longer, but the MTA’s plans to modernize the system’s communications are decades away. The state’s complete streets law is nearing its fifth anniversary, and to date, there is no dedicated source of state funding for creation of safe bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Meanwhile, a recent TSTC analysis reflected a 6.8 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities compared to last year’s analysis. For the third consecutive issue of Most Dangerous Roads for Walking, New York’s Jericho Turnpike was the tri-region’s deadliest, with 24 fatalities.