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Upstate transportation needs highlighted at state budget forum

Joe Mahoney, CNHI State Reporter
Posted 2/9/23

Public transit authorities in the upstate region need a “robust package” of state funding enhancements to stabilize their finances and meet emerging challenges, a leading advocate says.

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Upstate transportation needs highlighted at state budget forum


ALBANY — Public transit authorities in the upstate region need a “robust package” of state funding enhancements to stabilize their finances and meet emerging challenges, a leading advocate for those systems told lawmakers Monday.

Channeling a portion of the revenue the state collects from sports betting to the transit agencies or dedicating revenue from the state sales tax or corporate tax surcharge are among suggestions made by Bill Carpenter, president of the New York Public Transit Association, to deal with the financing needs.

Carpenter, one of several executives testifying at a legislative hearing on Gov. Kathy Hochul’s proposed transportation budget, also suggested that state spending for upstate transit needs lags the state’s commitment to public transit in New York City. “We urge the same commitment to provide new dedicated, sustainable revenues be made to transit customers in upstate urban and rural communities,” said Carpenter. “Upstate communities need and deserve stronger state investment in transit service so that our residents have the same opportunities for mobility, access, and economic growth.”

The upstate transit agencies face a $1.4 billion funding gap over the next five years, including a need for $700 million for zero emission vehicles and facilities, Carpenter noted.

“Without adequate multi-year funding, infrastructure conditions will worsen, the backlog of unmet needs will grow and climate goals will not be met,” he noted.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which operates mass transit in New York City, is the largest member of the New York Public Transit Association.

While noting his support for the proposed MTA funding, Carpenter urged more support for the upstate systems.

“Why would the state only address the financial challenges of its largest transit system when all smaller ones across the state face similar circumstances,” he asked.

With a final state budget scheduled to be in place by April 1, lawmakers will be considering making additions to the $227 billion being called for by Hochul in her fiscal blueprint for the state.

Among others seeking a major infusion were the two state associations representing town and county highway superintendents, led by David Miller, the town highway superintendent for Lockport, and Kevin Rooney, the Wayne County highway superintendent, respectively.

They said in a joint statement that Hochul’s $32.8 billion, 5-year transportation plan includes $1.2 billion to be distributed to the local highway departments, a sum they deemed to be inadequate for the needs.

“Record high inflation rates on highway construction materials have severely increased costs and, as a result, local governments are seeing almost a 25% reduction in real dollars from local highway maintenance programs,” they said. Local highway programs will need an additional $270 million in the coming year’s state budget, “just to keep funding at the same level it was when the five-year program was adopted last year,” they added.

Proposed initiatives in the state’s climate action plan would also drive up costs for highway departments, as updates would be needed for town and county garages and new vehicles would have to be purchased, Miller and Rooney said.

Several lawmakers, including Sen. Peter Oberacker, R-Otsego County, Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, and Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, all signaled their support for greater upstate support from the Hochul transportation budget.

At another point in the hearing, state Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez was questioned by Assemblyman Michael Norris, R-Lockport, and Kennedy, the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, about her agency’s response to the December blizzard that claimed 47 lives in Western New York.

Norris asked whether the state transportation agency is going to embrace any specific measures to improve its response to such emergencies.

“We are looking for continuous improvement in everything,” Dominguez said, noting the agency administrators are having “a larger conversation within our team.”

She added: “I think the bottom line is that everybody in my humble opinion did an amazing job, especially those that were on the ground and actually fighting the fight. That said, there’s always opportunity, and we will look for improvements.”


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