Come Out to Support Cross Hudson Rail Freight

This Friday, January 23, the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey will be hosting the first of seven public hearings to solicit public feedback on ten alternatives to move freight across the New York Harbor.

The reason for the study is the current system, which is untenable. The lack of existing freight track infrastructure in downstate New York east of the Hudson River means freight must come in on a truck or barge from New Jersey or via trains that are rerouted 140 miles north to Selkirk, NY and then make their way back south toward New York City.

Source: Port Authority DEIS

Source: Port Authority DEIS

CURRENT PROBLEM: SELKIRK DETOUR

More than 90 percent of freight crossing the Hudson River is moved in trucks. As has been noted time and time again, large commercial trucks are a significant contributor to roadway congestion, poor air and water quality, and the deteriorating conditions of regional infrastructure. There is also a significant social cost, as trucks affect roadway and pedestrian safety and quality of life in residential communities.

There are ways to reduce our region’s overreliance on and the impacts of truck freight while improving the overall system of moving goods into and out of our region. Alternatives to the current system are being studied in the recently released Cross Harbor Freight Program NEPA Tier 1 Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Five of the “rail tunnel alternatives” being studied would create a direct connection across the harbor, allowing freight to move directly from New Jersey to Brooklyn and enabling goods to reach Brooklyn, Queens, and Nassau and Suffolk Counties by rail.

SOLUTION: RAIL TUNNEL DIRECT CONNECTION

Left Image Source: Port Authority DEIS | Right Image Source: Source: Cap’n Transit

Left Image Source: Port Authority DEIS | Right Image Source: Source: Cap’n Transit

This would be a significant improvement over the current system. Some of the rail tunnel alternative benefits are:

  • reduced truck emissions, which pollute our air and contribute to increased asthma rates,
  • project construction jobs,
  • port jobs,
  • protection of the current and future flow of goods, including the region’s food and clothing supply,
  • safer roads, especially for pedestrians, and
  • avoidance of costly repairs of roadway damage caused by large trucks (According to one report, road damage caused by a single 18-wheeler is equivalent to that of 9,600 cars).

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A To-Do List for NYSTA’s New Leadership

State Budget Director Bob Megna, Photo: Times Union | Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney, Photo: ongov.net

In the wake of resignations of the Chairman, Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer of the New York State Thruway Authority, Governor Cuomo has announced his appointment of state budget director Robert Megna as acting Executive Director and Onondaga County Executive Joanie Mahoney as Board […]

ABO Report Validates Transparency Concerns Regarding EFC Loan to Thruway Authority

ABO reportWith the recent release of the New York State Thruway Authority’s proposed budget, which includes a funding deficit of $305 million and $922 million in borrowing for the Tappan Zee replacement project, this is as good a time as any to revisit last month’s report detailing concerns about the approval of the Clean Water Funds loan to the Thruway Authority.

Public authorities like the New York State Thruway Authority or the Metropolitan Transportation Authority should be familiar to regular MTR readers, but readers may be surprised to know that there are 45 state public authorities, not to mention the even more numerous local public authorities, industrial development agencies and local development corporations. As Assemblyman Richard Brodsky said in 2009, “The lives of New Yorkers are impacted by the operations of state authorities to an infinitely greater extent than they are by the departments of state government”yet little is known about what they do or how they operate. Brodsky made that statement in support of legislation he sponsored that year that instituted a new fiduciary duty for authority board members and also created the Authorities Budget Office (ABO).

One of the many authorities, is the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) which, with the Department of Environmental Conservation, jointly administers the Clean Water State Revolving Fund, a fund that provides low-interest rate financing to municipalities to construct water quality protection projects such as sewers and wastewater treatment facilities. Although those purposes have no relation to bridge construction, on June 16, Governor Cuomo announced the EFC had decided to make $511.45 million in “low-cost” loans to the Thruway Authority for the New NY Bridge project. The problem with this announcement is that the EFC Board had not yet acted on the loans, but rather met ten days later, officially voting on the $511 million loans on June 26. But this official decision was ten days after the Governor’s announcement, creating a timing problem for the Board’s decision.

This problem, as well as other red flags, led several organizations, including Tri-State, to request an ABO investigation of the loan process. The results of the investigation were released last week, in which the ABO found:

  • Instances where the EFC Board’s actions did not meet the standards required by the state’s fiduciary duty law;
  • The EFC Board did not comply with Open Meetings Law requirements; of particular concern was the Board’s unwarranted use of executive sessions under Section 105 of that law; and
  • The EFC Board failed to ensure that the EFC complied with 40 CFR 35.3150 when it did not question why the project was added to the Intended Use Plan (IUP) on June 11, 2014 and why the public was denied a comment period.

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PATH Riders’ Council Tackles Key Issues, but Concerns about Transparency Linger

Image: panynj.gov

Image: panynj.gov

Next week will mark the third meeting of the recently-formed PATH Riders’ Council, which gathered for a mostly introductory meeting in July, followed by a September meeting where the group began getting down to business. The meeting minutes list the following focus areas, which MTR called attention to in a post published prior to the September meeting:

  • Technology (displays, info, communication with riders)
  • Service (frequency, capacity, expansion)
  • Communications (communication with riders, feedback loop to riders)

The public minutes also reveal an interesting mandate from PATH Director/General Manager Stephen Kingsberry to the Council, who references the MTR post:

Reminded PRC members that they should not be responding to members of the Press directly as representative of PATH and/or divulging sensitive information discussed during closed session meetings; he referenced the article by Vincent Pellecchia, “A Full Plate for the PATH Riders’ Council

To be clear, the “article” referenced was not prepared nor written with input from anyone on the Council, but rather guided and informed via the public meeting minutes from the July meeting and published media coverage of the meeting.

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A Full Plate for the PATH Riders’ Council

path2

The PATH Riders Council‘s first meeting, held in July, was a basic introductory meeting that didn’t touch on any substantive issues. The next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow, and the Council, chaired by (former Tri-State staff member) Ya-Ting Liu, will undoubtedly start getting down to business.

The most pressing issue facing the Council is the need for the Port Authority to meet the current and future challenges of population growth in the PATH ridership area. After explosive growth over the past decade in Hoboken and Jersey City, any PATH rider already knows that rush hour trains are too crowded, and any delay only compounds the problem. This problem, if unaddressed, will only get worse in a future that will see:

Capacity is a glaring near and long-term need for PATH, and the Council should focus its efforts on ensuring that the Port Authority understands that need.

The Riders Council must also address inadequate service levels, especially on the weekends. In recent history, transit ridership has grown dramatically at non-traditional commuting times resulting in a demand for service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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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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Groups Call on New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation to Reconsider Tappan Zee Bridge Loan

UPDATE: EFC Board of Directors approves loan with 5-0 vote. Yesterday, Tri-State and eight other environmental and good government groups sent a letter to New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation Board of Directors calling upon them to reject, or at least postpone a vote on, a $511 million no-interest and low-interest loan for the New NY Bridge construction project. The […]

How to Convert New York’s Urban Freeways

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner | Photo: @SBRWA/Twitter

Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner | Photo: @SBRWA/Twitter

Non-profit leaders, agency employees, elected officials and their representatives came together in Albany this week to discuss the experience of four cities trying to convert urban freeways to more city-friendly boulevards.

The Urban Freeways to Boulevards Summit, co-hosted be the Southern Bronx River Watershed Alliance (SBRWA), of which Tri-State is a member, and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, brought together the cities of Albany, New York, Rochester and Syracuse to talk about lessons learned and possible strategies for making urban freeway conversion projects a reality.

Assemblyman Crespo kicked off the meeting by talking about the importance of the urban freeway conversion project in his district – the Sheridan Expressway – to improve health, quality of life and the economic vitality of the area. He was followed by representatives from each of the four cities:

The discussion that followed covered several points centered on the idea that New York State needs a new paradigm for how transportation projects are planned and evaluated:

New York State needs a process or protocol for the conversion of underutilized urban freeways: Cities across the state are re-imagining existing transportation infrastructure and exploring the ways to address changing mobility needs, lack of green space, housing needs and economic development. Yet, despite five cities (Buffalo’s Skyway/Route 5 is also exploring a conversion) exploring the conversion of freeways to boulevards, there is no clear state guidance on how to proceed with a planning process, what data to gather, the funding commitments needed, nor the tools available. Participants expressed a desire to remain connected to other cities to share information and to have a strong partnership with regional and central DOTs to advance such concepts.

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Federal Transportation Funding Part 2: Why the NYC Metropolitan Area Deserves More Support

President Obama visited New York this week to call on Congress to act on his five year transportation funding plan, which would increase federal spending beyond current levels by $23 billion per year — a 44 percent increase. As the Highway Trust Fund plunges towards insolvency and with Congress expected to drag its collective feet, the President’s push is great news.

As MTR highlighted in an earlier post, federal transportation investments see the greatest economic benefit if they are directed to metropolitan areas. President Obama’s visit presented an opportunity to highlight the infrastructure needs of a region in need of serious transportation upgrades.

Investing in the infrastructure of the tri-state region provides incredible bang for the nation’s buck. New York is by far the largest generator of gross domestic product in the country. Its GDP of $1.335 trillion in 2012 nearly equals the nation’s second and third largest metro areas (Los Angeles and Chicago) combined, and, if it were an independent nation, it would be the world’s 13th largest economy.

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Variable Pricing on the New NY Bridge: No More Breaks for Big Trucks

As the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project sails along, a recent letter in The Journal News called for free crossings for motorists between the off-peak hours from 1 to 5 a.m., to encourage drivers, especially commercial drivers, to travel when there is presumably less congestion.

While the goal to shift vehicles to off-peak hours as a way to reduce congestion has been proven successful in the area, around the country and internationally, with research even showing that non-work travel constitutes up to 56 percent of trips during the a.m. peak travel period and 69 percent of trips during the p.m. peak, the author’s proposed traffic solution misses the mark. The problem here is twofold: First, according the NYSTA’s own consultants, trucks already are not paying their fair share. According to one report, road damage caused by a single 18-wheeler is equivalent to that of 9,600 cars, yet trucks pay “only five times the rate of the average passenger vehicle,” according to NYSTA Executive Director Tom Madison. By some calculations, trucks cause up to 99 percent of all road damage.

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