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as a matter of both law and public policy, I cannot support this proposal and, in fact believe that it should be withdrawn or left to fail on its merits, or lack thereof.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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One Region, TSTC-Granted Funds Advance Transit-Oriented Development Throughout the Region

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Municipal grantees of the One Region Funders’ Group and Tri-State’s Transit-Centered Grant Program present TOD project updates at TOD Forum. Left to right: Nicole Chevalier (moderator), Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation; Claire Shulman, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC; David McCarthy, Jonathan Rose Companies; William Long, City of Mount Vernon; Richard Slingerland and Bob Galvin, Village of Mamaroneck; Jonathan Keyes, Town of Babylon. Photo: Kathi Ko

Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group assembled Transit-Centered Development Grant Program recipients last month to discuss progress made since the first round of grants to advance TOD were made in 2009.

The value of using philanthropic support to leverage additional investment for transit-oriented development (TOD) is unprecedented. Through two rounds of grant-making in 2009 and 2012, the program awarded $335,000 in funds to 11 municipalities throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These awards leveraged $135,000 in local contributions, $6.7 million in county and regional funds, $23 million in state grants and loan guarantees, and $4 million in federal funds.

Presentations from the grantees made it clear that these funds are going a long way to undo decades of sprawl. Some notable updates include:

Affordable senior housing coming to Flushing, Queens

The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC received a $14,000 grant in 2011 and used the funds as part of a larger proposal to revamp the LIRR’s Flushing station. Claire Schulman, former Queens Borough President and head of FWPCLDC, announced that the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development is now poised to transform a 43,200 square foot parking lot into as many as 200 units of affordable senior housing.

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A New Port Authority Bus Terminal May Be Closer Than We Thought

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Riders waiting to board buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. | Photo: The Record

Back in February, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (PANYNJ) officials said it was “premature” to put any spending for the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) in the capital program, and that nothing would be done regarding building a new bus garage until a $5.5 million study was complete.

But it seems like the Authority is revisiting this stance given new financial optimism and pressure from advocates and elected officials.

A few weeks ago, PANYNJ Commissioners Ken Lipper and Jeffrey Lynford of New York and David Steiner of New Jersey indicated that due to “several recent positive financial developments for the agency,” a new terminal “could and should be added” to the 10-year, $27.6 billion capital plan adopted in February. This news comes in response to New Jersey State Senator Loretta Weinberg’s testimony last month during the monthly meeting of the Port Authority Board of Directors.

The growing number of public complaints from New Jersey Transit commuters who use the PABT caught the attention of Assemblymembers Gordon Johnson and Senator Loretta Weinberg, who held a hearing on June 11 in Teaneck specifically to discuss concerns regarding the PABT. “We wanted to make sure in a most public way that NJ Transit and PANYNJ are well aware of the problems,” Weinberg said. “We’ve been hearing from our constituents,” who Weinberg says often must stand for more than an hour at a gate waiting to board a bus.

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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.

EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck | Photo: wamc.org

EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck | Photo: wamc.org

WINNERS

EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck – The agency has not just rubberstamped the list of projects proposed to be funded with the $511 million loan from the EFC, but instead is ensuring that “every single dollar is spent in accordance with federal laws and rules,” including the $100,000 proposal to relocate one peregrine falcon nesting box.

New York City Councilmember Margaret Chin – Two months after Mayor de Blasio released his affordable housing plan, Chin is calling for a municipal parking lot in the lower east side to be redeveloped for affordable housing.

Norwalk and Waterbury, CT – The City of Norwalk, Connecticut was one of only four cities in the nation to receive a $30 million Choice Neighborhood Initiative grant from the federal government, to redevelop a housing complex near rail. The State of Connecticut is investing $19 million in Metro-North Waterbury branch signalization as well as street improvements in downtown Waterbury.

Hoboken, NJ Residents, Commuters and Pedestrians – After three years and $54 million, Hoboken’s 106 year-old 14th Street Viaduct has reopened. The eight-lane feeder for the Lincoln Tunnel was redesigned to incorporate pedestrian plazas, recreation areas and a dog park.

New Jersey State Senators Loretta Weinberg and Stephen Sweeney – Both legislators urged the NJ Transit board to fund improvements at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
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NYCDOT Outreach Meeting on Woodhaven SBS: Mix of Viewpoints and Misconceptions

Community members envision a transformed Woodhaven Boulevard during a design charrette hosted by NYC DOT and MTA Bus. Photo: Kathi Ko

Community members envision a transformed Woodhaven Boulevard at a design workshop hosted by NYC DOT and MTA Bus. Photo: Kathi Ko

In late June, the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA returned to Queens for a second round of workshops to solicit ideas for the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service (SBS) route — the first of its kind for the borough. Residents and community groups gathered for a design charrette to submit their visions for a transformed Woodhaven Boulevard. Amid some concerns, participants were eager to share their ideas on how to speed up bus service, ease congestion, and improve walkability along the corridor.

Most workshop participants agreed that something needs to be done to relieve the infamously congested and dangerous corridor. At the first meeting back in April, participants discussed how and where they live, work and play along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, as well as their choices of and experiences with various commute modes. The feedback revealed local concerns including very slow and unreliable buses, dangerous and difficult pedestrian crossings, and traffic congestion.

During last week’s design charrette, participants engaged in a streetscape redesign envisioning process using elements of SBS and bus rapid transit (BRT) — similar to what MTR envisioned — as well as complete streets elements. The room was abuzz with a mix of proponents for big and bold ideas; others who were open to SBS, and even full-fledged BRT, but with some reservations about how SBS might affect congestion, parking and local bus service; as well as those who were seemingly opposed to any changes to the status quo.

Since city-wide SBS routes currently in service show that these concerns do not necessarily materialize, MTR decided to take a stab at addressing some of these concerns:
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Veto Threat Stops New Jersey Democrats from Pursuing Gas Tax Increase, but Not Other Tax Increases

Governor Christie has promised to veto any tax increase, which has evidently been enough to prevent Democrats from even trying to raise the gas tax.

New Jersey Democrats tried and failed to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Governor Chris Christie’s promise to veto any tax increases. So why hasn’t there been a serious attempt to raise the gas tax?

New Jersey Assembly Transportation Committee Chair John Wisniewski, a proponent of raising the state’s gas tax, stated earlier this year that “until the governor shows a willingness to tackle the [transportation funding] problem it would be quixotic for Democrats to propose a tax that would face not only the governor’s veto, but his wrath as well.”

It’s a rational argument — why try when failure is certain? But the threat of the governor’s veto hasn’t stopped New Jersey Democrats from trying to advance other tax increases.

Governor Chris Christie has been very vocal about his determination to veto any tax increase that is sent to him, so it came as no surprise when he vetoed a tax increase on millionaires before signing the $32.5 billion state budget this week. What’s surprising is that legislators sent them to the governor anyway. In fact, Democrats in the legislature have tried on several occasions to pass a “millionaires tax” despite Christie’s inevitable veto.

So why have legislators stayed away from seeking a much-needed gas tax increase? It’s not as if legislators don’t realize the state has a transportation funding crisis.

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AARP Long Island Seeks Grant Applicants

aarp-LITSTC’s partners at AARP Long Island are seeking Long Island-based applicants for two grants of $5,000 each. AARP has been a strong advocate for safer streets and livable communities on Long Island. The organization was instrumental in the recent adoption of a complete streets implementation fund in Suffolk County.

Grant proposals should explain in 500 words or less:

• Alignment with AARP’s mission and will advance the priorities of AARP, for example, Caregiving, Livable Communities, Food Insecurity, Isolation or other AARP priorities
• Target service toward an underserved population (with special focus on the 50+ population within the underserved population) on Long Island
• Work on a realistic timeline within the scope of the project
• Provide a lasting impact on the community

The deadline to apply for the funding is July 18 at 11:59 p.m. More details are available here.

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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.

Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs | Photo: nassaucountyny,gov

Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs | Photo: nassaucountyny,gov

WINNERS

Brookhaven, NY Town Board - The Board gave the go-ahead to the Ronkonkoma Hub transit-oriented development project.

Bill Lipton and Jen Hensley – The New York state director of the Working Families Party and the executive director of the Association for a Better New York co-authored an op-ed in Crain’s calling for full-fledged bus rapid transit  service in New York City.

New York City Transit and MTA Bus Company -  The two agencies have come together to improve and expand bus service across 10 lines, including the restoration of the B37 line, which connects Bay Ridge to the Barclays Center.

Nassau County Legislator Judy Jacobs - In response to recent traffic fatalities, Legislator Jacobs is calling for safety improvements on the area’s deadly roadway.

Moms in Metuchen, NJ - In response to a recent spate of pedestrian injuries in the notoriously pedestrian-unfriendly town, a group of concerned mothers has come together to urge their local leaders to improve traffic safety. » Continue reading…

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Putting the “Fund” in the Highway Trust Fund

In March, MTR reported that the Highway Trust Fund (HTF), which is supported by the federal gas tax and which pays for almost all transportation projects across the U.S., is anticipated to run dry by the end of the month.

Unfortunately, with less than a month to go, the situation has changed little since March. In a recent letter to heads of state DOTs, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx termed it “dire”, and many local electeds would agree that that is the case.

Though an agreement has not been reached on how to fund the HTF, it is not for lack of proposals from our leaders:

Corporate Tax Reform

President Obama’s GROW AMERICA Act– the Administration’s surface transportation reauthorization proposal—calls for “pro-growth business tax reform” to fund transportation infrastructure. According to the Administration, this will generate $150 billion. Streetsblog has called thisa “progressive and thoughtful” proposal “dead on arrival, even though it had support from the Republican chair of the Ways and Means Committee, Dave Camp.”

Corporate Tax Holiday

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) proposed a corporate tax holiday to fund the HTF. As The New York Times describes the plan, “American multinationals would escape taxes on 85 percent of their profits currently held in tax-deferred foreign accounts, provided they bring the money to the United States in the next year.”

The Times notes that after creating $20-$30 billion in two years, a corporate tax holiday would “lose money — by one government estimate, a simple tax holiday would lose $96 billion over 10 years — because the low tax rate would be applied to profits that would have been brought home over time anyway.” Senator Reid’s proposal is a bit more complicated than “a simple corporate tax holiday” – his office claims that the proposal is structured to earn $3 billion over 10 years. However, as The Times points out, these kinds of policies encourage “the hoarding of profits in tax-deferred foreign accounts in anticipation of future tax holidays.” The Obama administration has made it clear that it does not support Senator Reid’s plan.
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