ALBANY — Town and county highway superintendents are calling for a massive infusion of state dollars to repair or replace bridges and roads, noting project costs are skyrocketing due to climate change and years of inadequate funding.
"With climate changes and the new design changes for the bridges and culverts we're replacing, the sizes of these structures have increased dramatically," said Dennis Davis, president of the New York State Association of County Highway Superintendents.
Davis said the cost of bridge replacement projects, in some instances, have soared by as much as 75 percent. "It is something that is continuing to put more pressure on our programs and require more funding," he said.
Davis and Joel Kie, president of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, are urging lawmakers to ensure the next state budget includes a $150 million increase in the stream of state funding known as the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS).
At a recent legislative hearing they pointed out that the state has provided no additional funding for that program since 2013.
The two associations are also advocating for additional $100 million increases in state funding for both bridge projects and road projects.
The push for increased funding for roads and bridges could face an uphill struggle, however, as the Cuomo administration grapples with a projected $6.1 billion budget deficit. The admiistration is now framing a state spending plan for the 2020-2021 fiscal year beginning April 1.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to release his proposed budget in mid-January, at which point lawmakers will begin to dissect the funding proposals and seek to either add or subtract to them.
At this point, the Cuomo administration is not showing its hand on any specific funding proposals.
"This administration has invested $16 billion in transportation infrastructure in upstate New York, and is developing the Fiscal Year 2021 budget that will continue to strengthen New York State's roads and bridges against the threat of climate change," Freeman Klopott, a spokesman for Cuomo's Division of the Budget said in response to a query from CNHI.
The construction industry is also clamoring for more state dollars to be poured into improvements in roads and bridges. Some are pointing out that state government has long sought to achieve parity in funding for both upstate roads and bridges and downstate public transit projects.
Transportation funding decisions in the current budget, however, were tilted in favor of mass transit for the New York City metropolitan region.
Walter Pacholczak, vice president of government affairs for Associated General Contractors of New York State, an industry group, urged lawmakers to back a $35 billion transportation capital program, to be spread over the next five years.
He suggested new sources of revenue could go into the funding stream, including taxes collected from the proposed legalization of recreational marijuana and mobile sports betting.
"New York state is at an infrastructure crisis and this just did not happen overnight," he said.
Pacholczak pointed to a September study by TRIP, a non-profit research group that researches transportation issues, that noted 1,757 of New York's 17,521 bridges have been rated in poor or structurally deficient condition. Each day, he noted, millions of vehicles cross New York bridges in need of repair.
"We need to build a resilient infrastructure adapted to climate change that is more eco-friendly to help continue creating jobs and continue creating economic opportunities for current and future generations of all New Yorkers," he said.
Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org