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.
» Continue reading…

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.

» Continue reading…

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.

» Continue reading…

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.

» Continue reading…

Federal Transportation Funding Part 1: Need(less)-based Funding?

As the Federal Highway Trust Fund inches closer to bankruptcy and the Obama Administration’s transportation funding plan remains a work in progress with MAP-21 expiring at the end of FY 2014, the reality remains that the nation’s infrastructure is in pretty bad shape.

With money tight and needs large, prioritization is key. But, unfortunately, that’s not how things get done in Washington. Once the gas tax and other funds are collected by the federal government, they are deposited in the Highway Trust Fund. The Fund is then split into the Highway Account and Mass Transit Account.

Source: National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, Final Report - Volume III: Section 4 - Public Sessions and Outreach Meetings

Source: National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, Final Report – Volume III: Section 4 – Public Sessions and Outreach Meetings/ transportationfortomorrow.com

This funding breakdown highlights that only a small percentage of the two largest transportation funding pots go to mass transit funding, a key component of mobility in large metro areas. Even less goes toward infrastructure for walking and biking — the kind of infrastructure that’s integral for creating livable cities where people want to live – even though recent data show that these transportation modes are gaining users while vehicle miles traveled declines or is steady. Once the funds are generated, they are then seemingly arbitrarily distributed throughout the country, with distribution breakdowns based on apparent but not actual need based criteria.

» Continue reading…

NYS Thruway Authority Board Must Address TZB Task Force Recommendations

The NYS Thruway Authority was a key member of the Mass Transit Task Force, but the NYSTA Board is still yet to formally address the group’s recommendations.

On Thursday, the New York State Thruway Authority Board of Directors held its first meeting since the New NY Bridge Mass Transit Task Force issued its final [...]

Report Highlights the Need for Smarter Infrastructure Planning and Spending in New York City

caution-ahead-cufNews that the region’s transit ridership is growing coincided with a report this month that offers a sobering reminder of the challenges facing New York City’s critical infrastructure. In its latest report, Caution Ahead, the Center for an Urban Future reminds New York City residents, businesses and elected officials of the ugly truth: that New York City’s transportation infrastructure is old, and it needs help:

  • 30.4 percent of NYC roads are in “fair” or “poor” condition, up from 15.7 percent in 2000
  • 51 percent of highways are rated “fair” or “poor” in 2012 compared to 38 percent in 2008
  • 162 of the City’s 1445 bridges – or 11 percent – were structurally deficient

Below ground, the situation is just as dire. New York’s subway is over 100 years old, and the equipment that allows for sequencing of trains isn’t much younger. This system of signals covers 728 miles, 269 of which have exceeded their 50-year useful life. New signals aren’t exactly as sexy an investment as something like new train cars would be, but they are critically important nonetheless. If you’ve ever wondered why some lines don’t have countdown clocks, and why some seem to run on time while others seem to be constantly delayed, these signals are invariably a contributing factor. The subway is so old that even the 13 repair shops built to service these signals and other subway equipment on average were built almost 90 years ago. Continuing to rely on these antiquated facilities simply makes maintaining equipment more costly.

» Continue reading…

The Region’s Freeways Without Futures

Earlier this month, Congress for the New Urbanism (CNU) released its 2014 Freeways Without Futures report, which lists the top opportunities in North America for replacing aging urban highways with boulevards or avenues that connect with local street networks.

2014 Freeways Without Futures

2012 Freeways Without Futures 

I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans 

I-81, Syracuse, NY

Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, NY

Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

I-70, St. Louis

I-280, San Francisco

I-375, Detroit

Terminal Island Freeway, Long Beach

Aetna Viaduct, Hartford, CT

I-10/Claiborne Overpass, New Orleans

I-895/Sheridan Expressway, Bronx, NYC

Route 34/Oak Street Connector, New Haven, CT

Route 5/Skyway, Buffalo, NY

I-395/Overtown Expressway, Miami

I-70, St. Louis

West Shoreway, Cleveland

I-490/Inner Loop, Rochester, NY

I-81, Syracuse, NY

Gardiner Expressway, Toronto

Although the list includes freeways throughout North America, 40 percent of the list is made up of opportunities in New York and Connecticut (show in bold). Three of the projects in particular (highlighted in red) also showed up on the 2012 list.

Connecticut has a newcomer in Hartford’s Aetna Viaduct, which the local government has explored alternatives for, but has eliminated the boulevard option. As planning continues to move forward, officials should consider how they can encourage Interstate 84 users to switch modes to alleviate traffic and expand the potential alternatives to include a roadway that is more appropriate for downtown Hartford’s urban landscape. Mode shift in central Connecticut will be a more realistic goal after the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor is completed, and especially after the CTfastrak BRT system — which has six stations along I-84 near the viaduct – opens in 2015.

» Continue reading…

New Federal Regulations Could Actually Speed Up Transportation Projects

One local project that could be expedited under a new exclusion is the Metro-North Harlem Line third track extension from Crestwood to North White Plains. | Photo: Peter Ehrlich

One project that could be expedited under a new exclusion is the Metro-North Harlem Line third track extension from Crestwood to North White Plains. | Photo: Peter Ehrlich/Flickr

Two federal regulations included in MAP-21 will take effect this week, and they could have a significant impact on how transportation projects are planned. The regulations, one concerning Federal Highway Administration projects and the other related to Federal Transit Administration projects, could fast-track federally-funded projects by streamlining the environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Under NEPA, major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment require preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze, among other things, the environmental impact of the proposed action, unavoidable adverse environmental effects and potential project alternatives.

» Continue reading…