The 2005-2010 capital budget currently being proposed for New York State’s roadways and bridges has set aside insufficient funds to meet the needs of downstate New York – New York City and nine nearby counties – and will lead to deterioration of roadways and bridges, according to a new study by the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management at NYU’s Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. This approach will lead to far higher costs in the long-run to conduct major repairs or replacements of under-maintained infrastructure, with attendant delays, congestion, and impacts on the city’s economy.

The report – titled “Choices at a Critical Junction: New York’s Mobility and Highway Infrastructure Needs for 2005-2010” – is an analysis of the $17.4 billion capital budget proposed for the New York State Department of Transportation for the next five years, and in particular the $6 bllion that would be allocated for the downstate area, based on historic Downstate/Upstate splits. In its review of bridge and roadway trends, the study finds that the improvements in roadways and bridges achieved during the 1990’s have begun to erode over the last few years, and the capital budget, as it is currently proposed, would fail to reverse that erosion.

Moreover, the budget does not adequately fund “mobility” projects – projects such as bottleneck elimination, incident management improvement, or the creation of high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes – thus all but ensuring additional congestion and delays during downstate travel in the coming years. The study projects that the costs of traffic delays would increase 30 percent by 2010, with serious ramifications for economic opportunities and quality of life in the region.

The report proposes three alternative levels of funding which would have a less severe impact on the region: 1) $13.7 billion over the five-year period ($7.7 billion more than the current proposal), which would allow for reasonable progress toward a state of good repair and reductions in congestion; 2) $9 billion over the five-year period ($3 billion more than the current proposal), a modest plan that would prevent further worsening – but no improvement – of bridge and pavement conditions and congestion; or 3) $7.3 billion over the five-year period ($1.3 more than the current proposal), a minimal plan that would hold the line on bridge and pavement conditions but allow growth in congestion.

Elliot G. Sander, director of NYU Wagner’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management, said, “At proposed funding levels, New York bridges and highways, which are already below recommended Federal standards, will deteriorate further. In addition, because of the minimal investment made in reducing highway bottlenecks and improving system capacity, and other alternatives such as intelligent transportation systems and bus rapid transit, we can look forward to much higher levels of vehicular congestion. The economic development and quality of life implications of this need to be considered as the governor and state legislature finalize funding for the next five-year state transportation plan. And, if a bond act is part of the solution, voters need to be aware of these facts as well.”

The report was prepared by Bruce Schaller, a visiting scholar at the Rudin Center who has experience in highway, transit, and taxi issues in New York and nationally. Schaller has authored reports on East River bridge tolls, suburban transit access to Lower Manhattan, commuting and the growth of non-work travel in New York City, MTA fare policy and bus rapid transit and numerous other topics.

Funding for the report came from the New York State Laborers and the General Contractors Association of New York, Inc.

Established in 1996 at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, the Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management encourages innovative thinking and action in transportation management and policy. The Center achieves these objectives through a combination of value-added research, education, and public service.

Established in 1938, the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service offers advanced programs leading to the professional degrees of Master of Public Administration, Master of Urban Planning, Master of Science in Management, and Doctor of Philosophy. Through these rigorous programs, NYU Wagner educates the future leaders of public, nonprofit, and health institutions as well as private organizations serving the public sector.

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