On Day of Controversial Loan Vote, NYS Quietly Sends Notice of Sewer/Water Projects That Will Go Unfunded

The Islip LIRR station parking lot during heavy rainfall on August 13. | Photo: MTA

One doesn’t have to look far to find New York State sewer and water projects that need funding. Just this past weekend, Newsday published an article about a denial of funding for the Bay Park Sewage Plant, a plant that [...]

How Will New York’s Proposed Casinos Impact the Transportation System?

An artist's rendering of Sterling Forest Resort, a proposed resort casino in Tuxedo, NY. | Image:  sterlingforestresort.com

An artist’s rendering of Sterling Forest Resort, a proposed resort casino in Tuxedo, NY. | Image: sterlingforestresort.com

“I believe casinos in upstate New York could be a great magnet to bring the New York City traffic up.”

Governor Cuomo’s declaration in this year’s State of the State address would seem to suggest that upstate casinos would be built in transit-accessible locations. Less than half of New York City households own a vehicle, so “to bring the New York City traffic up” to casinos beyond the limits of Metro-North would ostensibly require some investments in transit.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t look to be part of the plan. Too often, transit access, congestion and wear-and-tear  on our roads are barely mentioned amidst the tax revenue ideology that accompanies economic development ventures. We’ve seen it before in New York, whether it’s the Governor’s effort to approve fracking, or the effort to lure New York City residents up to the Adirondacks (where there is no other option but to drive).

The June 30 deadline for casino applications brought 17 applicants vying for just four destination casino licenses in three upstate regions—the Catskills/Hudson Valley region, Eastern Southern Tier, and Capital Region. The final decision is expected to be made by the Gaming Facility Location Board, an appointed board with Cuomo-friendly appointees by the fall with casinos potentially opening as soon as 2015.

Some of the proposals submitted tout their proximity to public transit, while others propose significant expansions of the roadway system to bring customers directly to their door. Genting Americas is proposing a new Thruway Exit for a casino in Tuxedo, and Caesars Entertainment is offering to invest at least $20 million to improve traffic in the already burdened area near the proposed resort for Woodbury, “including funding a substantial portion of the long-delayed improvements to Exit 131 on the New York State Thruway.”

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Pick Your Number: NYS Thruway’s Milstein Inflates Savings from Controversial Loan by 350%

Photo: Crain's New York

New York State Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Milstein | Photo: Crain’s New York

On Wednesday, despite widespread objection from advocacy groupseditorial boardslegislators and the regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) unanimously voted in favor of a $256 million loan from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help finance New NY Bridge projects.

During the board meeting,  NYSTA chairman Howard Milstein stated that the savings on this loan will be substantially higher than what was claimed leading up to the July 16 Public Authorities Control Board (PACB) meeting: “By saving us $35 million in financing costs, the loan will be helping us to keep future tolls as low as possible,” said Howard Milstein, the authority’s chairman.

In a document released by the Thruway Authority after the PACB vote, savings on the full $511 million loan are stated to be $17 million. Accordingly, on the no-interest $256 million loan approved yesterday, savings would be $10 million. The 350 percent inflation of savings that Milstein is claiming is inexplicable.

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$256 Million Raid of Clean Water Funds Could Save Drivers as Little as 8 Cents a Toll…but at What Cost?

tzb-construction

Bridge construction on the Tappan Zee. | Photo: Nyack News & Views

A couple of weeks ago, New York State Thruway Authority Chairman Howard Milstein was asked how high the tolls will go on the new Tappan Zee Bridge. The Chairman replied, “Do the math, and you’ll find out that it’s not going to be a high number.”

But doing the math is pretty much impossible when basic numbers about how the bridge will be funded are kept from the public and when requests for information are met with a sea of black ink that blocks out all relevant information.

Also, what is perceived to be a “high number” varies from person to person. Comments made by New York State officials have hinted that future tolls will be in the range of $10 to $14; other estimates have been higher. Conspicuously absent from this discussion is an estimated toll savings from the controversial Clean Water State Revolving Fund loan to the Thruway Authority.

Governor Cuomo’s June 16 press release rationalized the raid on clean water funds as a way to “help keep tolls on the new bridge as low as possible.” When the public and officials questioned the loan, the administration fired back that those who oppose the loans “must be in favor of higher tolls on the new bridge,” though no mention was made of how much these loans will reduce the tolls. But a rough analysis by TSTC of documents released after the New York State Public Authorities Control Board approved the loan on July 16, shows that the toll reduction could be as little as 8 cents per toll. Put another way, an eight cents reduction would represent a 0.057 percent reduction on a hypothetical $14 toll. Even when calculated over a period of five years—the life of the CWSRF loan—is this reduction worth the potential health risks and reduced water quality resulting from a raid of funds used to protect and maintain water quality throughout the state?

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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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New York EFC Charges Ahead with Unprecedented, Unconventional Loan for Tappan Zee Project

The New York Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) board voted 5-0 on Thursday to provide the New York State Thruway Authority (NYSTA) with $511.45 million in low- and no-interest loans  from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) — a fund traditionally used to upgrade sewers across the state.

The vote was fast-tracked and fraught with controversy, as advocacy groups scrambled to get more information on a slew of unanswered questions, and the public was completely shut out of the process. Although EFC general counsel Jim Levine stated at the meeting that there has been a tremendous amount of work and due diligence done on this loan proposal, the public was only notified less than two weeks earlier, on June 11. The statutory requirement for public comment was completely avoided by labeling these loans “a minor modification” to the CWSRF’s Intended Use Plan.

Yesterday’s action, coupled with a still unreleased financial plan for the new Tappan Zee Bridge and continued refusal to provide documents under FOIL and FOIA, is another example of the lack of transparency surrounding the New NY Bridge funding process, most prominently highlighted by the unwillingness of Governor Andrew Cuomo to form the toll and financial panel charged with identifying funding mechanisms to pay for the bridge.

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2014 New York Legislative Session Wraps Up with Traffic Safety, PANYNJ Reform and Sneaky TZB Financing

 | Photo: AP via legislativegazette.com

State legislators voted in favor of allowing New York City to lower its default speed limit to 25 miles per hour in the 2014 legislative session. | Photo: AP via legislativegazette.com

It was an action-packed end-of-session for transportation advocates in Albany, with some squeaker wins as well as some disappointing losses which will no doubt be on next year’s sustainable transportation wish list.

Lowering Speeds

A key victory this year came when the State Senate laid politics aside and granted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio a key component of his Vision Zero plan: the authority to lower the default speed limit to 25 mph throughout the five boroughs.

Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell was an early and effective champion in the Assembly, but in the Senate, passage was less certain when election year politics entered into the negotiations.

After a concerted campaign from Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets, the first positive sign of forward progress for the bill came with three days left in the legislative session when Senator Jeffrey Klein introduced an amended bill (S.7892) that included input from community boards. Passage was certainly not assured especially as it became clear that Senator Dean Skelos was prepared to block the bill for personal reasons, and when Senator Andrew Lanza also indicated he was not inclined to support the legislation. Ultimately, consensus was reached and the bill is expected to be signed by Governor Cuomo. The City has already begun to discuss how to implement its new local control.

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Federal Safety Dollars Flowing to Pedestrian, Bicyclist Safety in New York State

A 10-month-old was killed at this location when she and her pregnant mother, who was pushing her stroller, were struck by a vehicle while crossing Route 110. | Photo: Steve Pfost/Newsday

A 10-month-old was killed at this location when she and her pregnant mother, who was pushing her stroller, were struck by a vehicle while crossing Route 110. | Photo: Steve Pfost/Newsday

Governor Cuomo announced $75.6 million for 33 transportation projects across the state this week. The funding comes from the federal Highways Safety Improvement Program (HSIP), and projects were selected on a competitive basis. Over 60 percent of the projects announced will include some bicycle and pedestrian safety components, and all 13 projects selected in Long Island and New York City are focused on pedestrian and bicycling safety. Some projects that stand out:

  • $2 million to improve pedestrian and bicycle safety along 4.3 miles of Ocean Parkway, one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous roads, by installing new traffic signals and pedestrian countdown signals, installing pedestrian refuge islands, prohibiting left turns at some intersections, upgrading curb ramps, signage and pavement markings.
  • $3.2 million to make operational and pedestrian safety improvements on one of the region’s most dangerous roads, Route 110 in the Village of Amityville and the towns of Babylon and Huntington in Suffolk County. It includes widening existing crosswalks and adding 25 ADA-compliant new crosswalks, along with pedestrian countdown timers, new traffic signals and pedestrian refuges.
  • $2 million to improve pedestrian crossings at 235 locations in the Hudson Valley, installing pedestrian countdown timers at traffic signals that have crosswalks and/or pedestrian crossing phases.

This announcement represents a big win for New Yorkers for Active Transportation, a statewide coalition that has advocated for a “fair share for safety” over the last couple of years. While the Federal Transportation Law, MAP-21, slashed dedicated funding for bicycle and pedestrian projects by 30 percent (a $12 million reduction for New York), it did almost double the apportionment of HSIP funding—a potentially key source of funding for pedestrian and cycling safety infrastructure.

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Time for New York’s Driver’s Education to Enter the 21st Century

A recent screen shot from a drivers education course shows the tendency to blame vulnerable users.

Do you drive a motor vehicle in New York State?  Have you ever wondered:

  • How to safely negotiate bike lanes while driving?
  • How to pass a bike on a rural road with a double-yellow line and oncoming traffic?
  • What the “Due Care” law actually means?

Well, if you’re curious, you won’t find the answers in New York State’s Driver’s Education Manual. In fact, the 100+ page document only devotes two pages to “Sharing the Road” with bicyclists — a whopping 544 words, and 66 percent of those words are devoted to how bicyclists are supposed to act on the road, not drivers.

Contrast that with the fact that in 2012, over 60 percent of vehicle crashes with bicyclists in New York State were attributed to unsafe motorist behavior, and that pedestrians were involved in 25 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes in the same year, more than twice the national average (11 percent). And while New York State does require a five-hour pre-licensing course and test before a new driver gets a license, the course curriculum and test are not required to address how vehicles can better navigate roads that are increasingly populated by vulnerable road users.

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Communities Across New York Want Local Control Over Speed Limits

Lawmakers in Albany have the opportunity to correct a law that prevents community-wide speed limits below 30 miles per hour. | Photo: Burlington Free Press

Lawmakers in Albany have the opportunity to change a law that prevents community-wide speed limits below 30 miles per hour. | Photo: Burlington Free Press

Leaders across New York united in an appeal to Governor Cuomo this week to correct a loophole in the Vehicle and Traffic Law that circumvents New York’s home rule principles, and prohibits municipal leaders from making their streets safer. Over 50 mayors and supervisors representing communities in over half of New York’s counties, along with the Association of Towns and the New York Conference of Mayors, have spoken with one voice to the Governor: give municipal leaders the ability to lower the speed limit in their communities.

The home rule concept allows local leaders to make local decisions about the health, safety and welfare of their communities. It is a bottom-up philosophy, embedded in the belief that local leaders know their communities best and that self-governance leads to better solutions. Unfortunately, when it comes to local roads, communities have to open their pocketbooks to pay for them, yet they do not have the authority to govern basic rules of them—like the speed limit.

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