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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Tappan Zee Bridge Financial Details Finally Released to the Public

Tappan Zee Bridge Project TIFIA-Eligible Costs, Sources and Uses of Funds, as provided to TSTC on July 17, 2014 by the Federal Highway Administration in response to appeal of Tappan Zee Bridge Financial Plan Freedom of Information Act request.

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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Criticism of Tappan Zee EFC Loan Piling Up

A pivotal moment in the three-step approval process for the Environmental Facilities Corporation (EFC) loan to fund the Tappan Zee Bridge project will happen tomorrow when the Public Authorities Control Board will take up discussion of the loan. Unanimous approval from the board is required for the loan to move forward to its next and final vote by the NYS Thruway Authority Board. In the wake of the EFC Board’s unanimous vote of approval, and in anticipation of tomorrow’s vote, the media has been nearly overwhelmed by criticism of the many facets of the controversial loan:

FINANCIAL TRANSPARENCY

Conclusively, as a matter of both law and public policy, I cannot support this proposal and, in fact believe that it should be withdrawn or left to fail on its merits, or lack thereof. Furthermore, as a member of the Public Authorities Control Board, I feel duty-bound by Section 51(3) of the Public Authorities Law to advocate against the passage of this proposal because it fails the necessary statutory test by being totally without “commitments of funds sufficient to finance the acquisition and construction of such project.”
- Bill Perkins, New York State Senator

From Day One we’ve been waiting for a complete financing plan that would include the all-important toll structure. Even after the feds came through with a $1.5 billion loan that required the filing of a financial plan, we still don’t know squat. Every attempt to FOIL the information has been denied by both the feds and the state, for no good reason.
-
Fred LeBrun, Albany Times Union

In a two-page letter, the feds denied Juva-Brown’s [FOIL] request, saying the Thruway Authority had advised them to do so. The U.S. Department of Transportation said Cuomo’s financial plan — the basis for a $1.6 billion loan request — was “hypothetical,” “misleading” and “inaccurate.”  DOT spokeswoman Nancy Singer didn’t quite answer how that could be. “New York met the requirements” for the loan, she said.
- Andrea Bernstein, Senior Editor for Politics & Policy, WNYC

When there was a discussion about the Tappan Zee Bridge, I tried to get the executive director of the Thruway Authority to tell me how they were financing the bridge and there were no answers. They were going to appoint somebody and so forth. So, that’s one thing I want to get out of that meeting when it happens is that in order to decide one component of financing, you gotta know the whole financial package.
- John DeFrancisco, New York State Senator

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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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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

New Amtrak baggage cars feature roll-on bike storage. | Photo: blog.amtrak.com

WINNERS

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo – This morning Governor Cuomo signed into law a piece of legislation that authorizes the expansion of speed camera use on Long Island, saying that “By empowering Nassau and Suffolk Counties to install dozens of speed cameras in school zones, we are helping to protect our students and ultimately save lives. This should send a message to all drivers – slow down and obey the speed limit, especially when passing by a school.”

Hopewell Township, NJ – The township became the 100th municipality in the Garden State to embrace Complete Streets and the first municipality to do so by way of a Complete Streets ordinance. According to the Township Administrator/Engineer Paul Pogorzelski, “we decided that this policy should be in the form of an ordinance and have the weight of law rather than simply be part of a resolution which does not transcend governing body changes. “

Amtrak - Amtrak announced that they have begun testing new bike-friendly baggage cars to alleviate passengers of the hassle of boxing and checking their bikes as luggage. These baggage cars, which are manufactured in New York state, are expected to be put into service on all 15 long-distance routes by the end of this year.

New Jersey Transit – The agency has unofficially launched its first-ever one seat ride summer shore rail service from Penn Station to Bay Head using new energy-efficient dual-powered locomotives. Riders will save 25 minutes by not having to change trains at Long Branch, which will likely boost ridership to the shore and alleviate summer parking in shore towns. » 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 [...]