Senator Kennedy Presses DOT for Answers on Skyway, Regional Funding Disparities at Transportation Budget Hearing
DOT Commissioner says it is the intention of the department to “use all their best efforts” to deliver promised funds to WNY.
Commissioner confirmed Skyway ‘plausibility review’ is underway, says she will come to Buffalo to discuss review findings. Also confirms review findings will not just be laid aside and ignored.
Kennedy: Western New Yorkers Deserve a Responsive DOT that Delivers on its Promises and Acts on Local Transportation Needs. Today’s Public Hearing was a Step in the Right Direction.
ALBANY, N.Y. – Senator Tim Kennedy, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, pressed the N.Y. State Department of Transportation for answers about ongoing funding disparities suffered in Western New York and pushed for specifics on the future of the Buffalo Skyway at a public hearing Thursday in Albany.
DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald appeared before a panel of lawmakers who questioned her about the impact of the 2013-14 budget on statewide transportation infrastructure.
Regional Funding Disparities
When he had the opportunity to question the Commissioner, Senator Kennedy set his targets on regional funding concerns. After last year’s budget was approved, approximately $166 million in DOT Core Program funding was earmarked for Western New York. However, only $72 million has actually been spent over the course of the fiscal year.
In response to Kennedy’s questioning, DOT Commissioner McDonald said it is the intention of her department to “use all their best efforts” to ensure the funds promised to Western New York are delivered to the community. She also confirmed that funding to repair four dilapidated bridges over NY Route 33 will be spent this year to ensure the projects start next construction season.
“When the DOT invests in Western New York, it creates jobs and spurs local economic activity,” said Senator Kennedy. “It is welcome news that the DOT intends to live up to their promises and follow through on needed funds for our roads and bridges. When state agencies make commitments, it’s critical that we hold them accountable. Before I took office, Western New York had missed out on its fair share, and I refuse to let that happen again. We’ll keep working to make sure the DOT follows through and delivers the resources that our community needs.”
Future of the Buffalo Skyway
Kennedy also pressed for details on DOT plans for the Buffalo Skyway. He asked for more specifics on the “plausibility review”, which the DOT has said it will conduct to assess the issues surrounding the potential removal of the Skyway. Commissioner McDonald confirmed the review is underway, and she assured Senator Kennedy that she will visit Buffalo when the review is completed to discuss its findings. The DOT Commissioner also confirmed that review findings will not just be set aside and ignored, but will be thoroughly considered and put to work.
“This is great news for Buffalo’s waterfront and all of Western New York: the Skyway ‘plausibility review’ is underway, and Commissioner McDonald will visit Buffalo to present the findings once the review is complete,” Kennedy said. “Too often state reviews and studies are conducted, but end up getting laid aside to gather dust. The DOT says this review will be different, and they’ll put the findings to work for Western New York. It only makes sense: we have a rare situation with the Skyway – the best option is also the least expensive option. Taking down the Skyway is a win-win: it's good for our community, and it saves money.”
Current maintenance of the Skyway will cost the state about $117 million over the next 20 years. Many estimate maintenance costs will be greater than the overall cost to demolish the structure and complete alternative routes. The DOT currently rates the Skyway as “structurally deficient” while the Federal Highway Administration rates the bridge “functionally obsolete.” Proposals to remove the structure would likely yield a cost savings to the state and spur private investment and economic growth along Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.
State Resources for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA)
Kennedy also pushed Commissioner McDonald on an important source of funding for upstate transit authorities – and specifically the NFTA. For the past six years, funding for the non-MTA account of the state’s Dedicated Mass Transportation Trust Fund has not been distributed to finance improvement projects for aging upstate transit systems. Over $100 million dollars in state funding for capital projects has not been disbursed. As a result, the NFTA and other upstate transit agencies have had to dip into their operating funds to pay for needed capital improvements. Kennedy says that this often leads to route cuts and fare hikes for local transit riders.
For the NFTA, the state's withholding of these funds amounts to a loss of $16.5 million that could have been put toward improvements to light rail terminals, stations and shelters in Western New York. These are projects that create jobs and make the transit system more attractive to new riders. The Commissioner was not able to answer the Senator on when these funds might be released. However, she said she will follow-up with Senator Kennedy on this critical transit funding issue following the hearing.
Kennedy also pointed out that NFTA receives less State Transit Operating Assistance (STOA) per passenger trip and per revenue mile than the other major upstate agencies, despite being the state’s second largest transit provider and the only upstate system with light rail service. In the current Executive Budget, the NFTA remains underfunded by almost $5 million dollars. Kennedy pressed the DOT Commissioner to ensure the formulas used to calculate state funding truly reflect the needs of the NFTA system. Kennedy will be pushing for these funds to be included in the final budget.
Senator Timothy M. Kennedy represents the New York State Senate’s 63rd District, which is comprised of the town of Cheektowaga, the city of Lackawanna and most of the city of Buffalo. More information is available at http://kennedy.nysenate.gov.