Bipartisan group of state legislators, local highway superintendents, and statewide transportation advocates hold 'Local Roads Matter' rally at State Capitol ~ Watch news conference and rally [UPDATED, March 10]

March 09, 2016

Senator O'Mara addresses this morning's "Local Roads Matter" rally at the Capitol, surrounded by legislative colleagues and local highway superintendents from throughout New York State.

O'Mara, Palmesano organize a strong bipartisan group of 130 state legislators and join local highway superintendents to call on Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders to increase state support for local roads, bridges and culverts

Albany, N.Y., March 9—A bipartisan group of 130 state legislators, organized by State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C,I-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C,I-Corning) and representing more than 60% of the Legislature’s entire membership, today joined county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from across New York to call for increased state support for local roads, bridges and culverts.

At a news conference in the Capitol, O’Mara, Palmesano and other state legislators, county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders called for increasing state funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program, commonly known as CHIPS, by $250 million to a total of $688.1 million in the 2016-2017 state budget.  They’re also seeking the creation of a new, four-year, $600-million “State Aid to Local Bridge and Culvert Program” to undertake locally designated bridge and culvert improvement projects statewide.

In a joint statement, O’Mara and Palmesano said, “Across-the-board parity in transportation funding is a top budget priority this year.  Governor Cuomo and legislative leaders will be deciding how best to allocate billions of taxpayer dollars for upstate and downstate transportation infrastructure and we want to make sure that local roads, bridges and culverts throughout the state receive an equal and fair share of state assistance through CHIPS and other investments.  The improvement and repair of locally maintained roads and bridges in every community across the state are going unmet year after year even though local motorists keep delivering billions of dollars in taxes and fees to the state every year that are supposed to be dedicated to maintaining local roads and bridges.  Local roads and bridges, in every region of the state, are community and economic lifelines that are at risk from a severe lack of adequate, dedicated funding.  A revitalized state commitment to local transportation is a wise use of taxpayer dollars.  It’s an investment in economic growth, job creation, property tax relief and motorist safety.”

[Watch a video replay of the March 9th "Local Roads Matter" news conference and rally HERE

[UPDATED, March 10: Read and watch more from:

The Leader, "Highway superintendents rally for funding hikes"   

Albany Times-Union, "Senate GOP says one-house budget will include transportation 'parity'"

AM 1480 WLEA News, "Rally for Highway Superintendents"

Finger Lakes Radio News, "'Local Roads Matter' Rally Held in Albany Wednesday"

Time Warner Cable News, "Ensuring Funding for Upstate Roads" and "Legislators, highway superintendents calling for increased road, bridge funding in NY"

and see the attached article below from the Hornell Evening Tribune, "Legislators lead drive for CHIPS funding"]

Local highway superintendents representing every region of the state have been in Albany this week as part of their annual  “Local Roads Matter” advocacy campaign.

For the past three years, O’Mara and Palmesano have organized a bipartisan group of state legislators in the Senate and Assembly, together with county and town highway superintendents and other local leaders from across New York, to call for increased state support for local roads, bridges and culverts through the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS).

During this time, beginning with the 2013-2014 state budget, CHIPS funding, including a special category of “Winter Recovery” funding for the past two years, has been increased by approximately $125 million to an overall level of $438.1 million.  As a result, counties, cities, towns and villages have seen funding increases.

This year’s “Local Roads Matter” campaign is making the case for an even stronger state commitment to local roads, bridges and culverts.   With the property tax cap and shrinking local revenues, the lawmakers argue, CHIPS funding is absolutely critical to helping local communities and taxpayers – noting that municipalities own and maintain 87% of the roads in the state, own and maintain 52% of New York’s 18,000 bridges, and that 48% of the vehicle miles driven in the state are driven on local roads.

In his 2016-2017 Executive Budget, Cuomo has proposed to maintain this year’s total CHIPS funding at last year’s level of $438.1 million while eliminating any additional winter recovery allocation.

The bipartisan coalition of legislators and local highway leaders are also continuing to stress the need for parity in funding for the five-year MTA Capital Plan and the statewide five-year DOT Capital Plan.   They note that under Cuomo’s 2016-17 proposed state budget, the MTA Capital Plan is funded at $26 billion while the DOT Capital Plan is slated to receive $20 billion.  In a March 8th letter to the governor, legislative leaders and top Cuomo administration officials, the coalition emphasizes “that equitability, fairness and parity is essential when funding our state’s infrastructure.  We support and recognize the importance of funding for the five-year MTA Capital Plan as a critical infrastructure investment that is necessary to meet the transportation needs of residents, commuters and visitors for our downstate region.  In addition, we believe just as strongly that funding for the five-year DOT Capital Plan is a necessary and critical investment for the residents, motorists and taxpayers of the State of New York, particularly for our upstate region.  We are one state, with challenging infrastructure needs statewide, and therefore we believe it is critically important that the five-year capital plans for the MTA and the DOT should reflect true parity and equal funding -- as it was always achieved by previous Governors and legislatures prior to 2010.”            

A 2013 study conducted by the town highway superintendents association reported that New York needs to invest an additional $1.3 billion per year on local roads and bridges to prevent them from becoming deficient.  An earlier report from the state comptroller called 32% of New York’s local bridges deficient and 40% of local roads fair or poor, and getting worse. A national transportation advocacy group, TRIP, has estimated that deteriorating roads cost New York motorists nearly an additional $25 billion annually – nearly $2,300 for the average driver in some areas -- in lost time, fuel costs, vehicle repairs and other expenses.    

According to the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways (NYSAOTSOH) and the State County Highway Superintendents Association (NYSCHSA), the fees and taxes paid by drivers approach $5 billion annually yet only about $2 billion of these revenues are dedicated to maintaining the state’s transportation infrastructure.  They argue that $3 billion that the state annually collects in motorist fees and taxes, which should be kept in the state’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, are being diverted to other, non-transportation related purposes.

In their March 8th letter, the coalition concludes, “We continue to value your commitment and leadership on this important issue and we ask for your support as we look ahead to the 2016-17 budget negotiations.  We believe it is critically important to build on this past success and renew our commitment to addressing the tremendous, unmet needs and challenges facing our local roads, bridges and culverts in every region across New York State.   We believe an even stronger commitment in this year’s final budget to our locally maintained transportation infrastructure is not only feasible and justified, but also imperative to realizing our shared economic, fiscal and community development goals.  Therefore, we are again proudly joining with our local leaders to urge you to support a multi-year strategy to address local infrastructure needs in order to help provide our citizens, local property taxpayers, tourists and motorists with the kind of local transportation system they need and deserve.”  

[see the attached letter and list of Senate and Assembly signees]

Tracy J. Eldridge, President of the NYS County Highway Superintendents Association (NYSCHSA), and Superintendent of Highways for Hamilton County, said, “This year’s budget proposal sets a record $6 billion gap between the MTA and DOT five-year capital program. True parity means equal funding levels for the MTA and the DOT; both at $26.1 billion. With true parity, CHIPS can be funded at appropriate levels consistent with need. The additional funding can also be used to support a state aid to local bridge program at $150 million per year for local bridge and culvert projects with a fair regional distribution of funds and local highway department participation in project evaluation and selection decisions.”  

Jeff Griswold, Superintendent of Highways for the Town of Preble in Cortland County and current President of the NYS Association of Town Superintendents of Highways (NYSAOTSOH), said, "Eighty-seven percent of the roads and half of the bridges in this state are owned by local governments. Drivers depend on us to maintain local roads and bridges in a safe and affordable manner. Local taxpayers cover the vast majority of the cost of maintaining the local highway system. The state’s contribution is through the CHIPS program which distributes only a fraction of the gas taxes and drivers fees the state collects from drivers on the local system. We urge the legislature to restore parity between the MTA and the DOT capital programs to finally give localities their fair share of transportation infrastructure funding."

Stephen J. Acquario, Executive Director of the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), said, “The state needs to prioritize its commitment to road and bridge infrastructure as an asset of this state. This investment is critical to ensuring the safety of the traveling public and will lend itself towards attracting and maintaining its businesses. We implore the legislature to properly fund the infrastructure needs of this state.”

Peter A. Baynes, Executive Director of the New York State Conference of Mayors (NYCOM), said,  "At a time when infrastructure investment in New York is lacking but is also widely recognized as a key to revitalizing our communities and our State, the need for a substantial increase in CHIPS funding is more critical than ever.  NYCOM thanks Senator O’Mara, Assemblyman Palmesano and their bipartisan group of legislators for their leadership on this critically important issue. NYCOM fully supports an increase of $250 million in CHIPS, as well as the creation of a four-year, $600 million aid program for local bridges and culverts."

Gerry Geist, Executive Director of the Association of Towns of the State of New York, said, “On behalf of our members across the state, the Association of Towns would like to thank Senator O’Mara and Assemblyman Palmesano for their work for local governments and their current infrastructure needs. We agree with their call for an enhancement to the CHIPS program, the creation of a funding mechanism for additional bridge and culvert assistance and parity between the MTA and DOT capital plans. Whether the measure is fiscal stress or road and bridge conditions, local governments clearly need a strong partnership with the state; the plan provided by Senator O’Mara and Assemblyman Palmesano is a partnership the Association of Towns wholeheartedly supports.”

Mike Elmendorf, President and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of NYS, said, “It is crucial that the 2016-2017 State Budget restore parity between the NYSDOT and MTA capital programs.  While we fully support the proposed $26.1 capital plan for the MTA, the $20.1 billion proposed plan for the NYSDOT would amount to the largest disparity ever between the two programs.  Our local communities rely on this funding to help maintain and improve roads and bridges in every corner of our state.  I thank the coalition of lawmakers who have come together today to fight for increased CHIPS funding and am hopeful that by working together, we will restore transportation parity in the upcoming budget.”

Jeff Williams, New York Farm Bureau Public Policy Director, said, “The parity in upstate-downstate road and bridge infrastructure funding remains a priority for farmers across the state. They need access to safe, well-maintained roads and bridges in order to move equipment to farm fields and transport their goods to market.  Our rural communities can’t afford to be left by the side of the road when it comes to keeping our state’s infrastructure in good shape.”

Gib Gagnon, Chairman of Rebuild NY Now, said, “CHIPS funding allows local communities around the state to make the necessary repairs and upgrades to keep our roads and bridges in good working order. We remain encouraged that Governor Cuomo pledged to restore parity in his State of the State and Budget Address, and hope that the legislature and Governor fulfill that pledge in the final budget by fully funding a $26.1 billion capital plan for both the NYSDOT and MTA. Making that investment would go a long way to helping local communities, through CHIPS, provide safe and reliable infrastructure statewide.”