Feds Scramble to Hammer Out New Transportation Funding Bill
By JOHN JORDAN
WASHINGTON—While construction industry advocacy organizations praised the passage of the Moving Forward Act transportation infrastructure bill earlier this month, they are pressing Congress to work out their differences before the current authorizations expire on Sept. 30.
The House passed the $1.5-trillion Moving Forward Act on July 1 and both the American Road & Transportation Builders Association and the Associated General Contractors Association applauded the measure and pressed the Senate to act quickly and work towards a final bill that can garner the approval of both houses of Congress.
American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) President and CEO Dave Bauer stated, “The nation’s economic recovery post coronavirus would receive a huge longterm boost with the passage of a robust surface transportation investment bill. We commend the House for taking a positive step in that direction with its July 1 approval of The Moving Forward Act. The last thing states need during tumultuous times is more uncertainty about their
share of federal highway and public transit funding. Short-term program extensions are not the solution and would only add insult to injury.” He added, “We urge the Senate to move forward quickly on its version of a multi-year reauthorization bill. Final bicameral action is imperative before the current FAST Act law expires Sept. 30.”
The chief executive officer of the Associated General Contractors of America, Stephen E. Sandherr, also released a statement in response to the passage of the Moving Forward Act by the House that called for a more bipartisan effort to enact much-needed transportation infrastructure funding. “House Democratic leaders rightlyunderstand the scope of the nation’s infrastructure challenges and the suggested funding levels in their infrastructure measure could lead to significant, and much-needed, improvements. However, virtually every meaningful infrastructure legislation that has been enacted in the past 65 years has enjoyed broad bipartisan, bicameral support. Unfortunately, today’s vote makes it clear that this measure does not have the same widespread support as its predecessors,” he said. “One reason is that many of the measure’s provisions do more to accommodate the wishes of special interests than solve infrastructure needs. This could undermine the bill’s ability to boost employment and needed economic growth.” He concluded, “The vote should be the start of a sincere and earnest process to craft a measure that will garner widespread support among both parties, in both houses. The end goal should be enacting a measure that will have the largest possible impact on improving the nation’s aging and overburdened infrastructure.”
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials Executive Director Jim Tymon also called for more bipartisan efforts in Congress. In a statement in response to the passage of the Moving Forward Act by the House, Mr. Tymon said, “Now that the House has passed H.R. 2, we urge the House and Senate leadership to pursue a bipartisan approach to transportation reauthorization that must be passed before September 30. We firmly believe the best policy outcomes arise when both parties come together to find the right blend of forward-thinking commonsense solutions.” He noted that the AASHTO Board of Directors representing state DOTs from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico approved a set of surface transportation reauthorization priorities in 2019 that focused on increased funding for all programs; maintaining the flexibility and maximizing the funding of current core formula programs; addressing climate change and resiliency; improving project delivery; and meeting the infrastructure needs of rural and urban areas. “We look forward to working with Congress on bipartisan solutions that will uphold these priorities to ensure a robust, modern, and resilient national transportation system,” Mr. Tymon added.
“A sustainable recovery from this economic crisis will require bold, comprehensive plans to reinvigorate our cities and towns, and there’s no better way to do that than through new transportation and infrastructure projects.”
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY-18)
U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (DNY- 18), a member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Chair of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee, said the Moving Forward Act would bring $23.6 billion to New York State in highway and transit funding in addition to funding schools, clean energy, water and housing infrastructure projects. He called the bill a “gamechanger when it comes to strengthening our infrastructure and will be a real shot in the arm for communities that need new investments and good paying
jobs after the pandemic. A sustainable recovery from this economic crisis will require bold, comprehensive plans to reinvigorate our cities and towns, and there’s no better way to do that than through new transportation and infrastructure projects,” Rep. Maloney said.
Additionally, Rep. Maloney’s bill, the “Bridge Investment Act”, was included in the “Invest in America Act,” a large portion of the Moving Forward Act. The bill will invest $28 billion to repair America’s 47,000+ structurally-deficient bridges. In New York’s 18th Congressional District alone, more than 11% of bridges—190 total—are in poor (or worse) condition, and require major improvements.
Among the key provisions of the Moving Forward Act include:
- Invests nearly $500 billion to rebuild and reimagine the nation’s transportation infrastructure by fixing roads and bridges, improving safety, reducing gridlock, and putting the U.S. on a path toward zero emissions from the transportation sector by cutting carbon pollution, investing in public transit and the national rail network, building out fueling infrastructure for low- and zero-emission vehicles, and deploying technology and innovative materials. These projects will benefit from strong Buy America provisions and labor protections for American workers. The surface transportation provisions in the bill are the product of the INVEST in America Act, which Rep. Maloney helped amend and strengthen as the bill was debated in the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.
- Invests in schools with the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, which funds $130 billion in school infrastructure targeted at high-poverty schools with facilities that endanger the health and safety of students, educators, and support staff. This investment will help students get back to school and create more than two million jobs to help workers get back to work.
- Addresses structural challenges and upgrades childcare facilities by leveraging a five-year, $10 billion federal investment to generate additional state and private investments in making sure that childcare settings are safe, appropriate, and able to comply with current and future public health directives.
- Invests more than $100 billion into the nation’s affordable housing infrastructure to create or preserve 1.8 million affordable homes. These investments will help reduce housing inequality, create jobs and stimulate the broader economy, increase community and household resiliency in the face of natural disasters, improve hazardous living conditions, and increase the environmental sustainability of our housing stock.
- Protects access to safe drinking water by investing more than $25 billion in the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and other programs to ensure all communities have clean drinking water and to help remove dangerous contaminants like PFAS from local water systems.
- Modernizes the nation’s energy infrastructure for a clean energy future by investing more than $70 billion to transform the electric grid to accommodate more renewable energy, expand renewable energy, strengthen existing infrastructure, help develop an electric vehicle charging network, and support energy efficiency, weatherization and Smart Communities infrastructure.
- Delivers affordable high-speed broadband Internet access to all parts of the country by investing $100 billion to promote competition for broadband Internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities, prioritizing those with persistent poverty. Gets children connected to remote learning, closes broadband adoption and digital skills gaps and enhances payment support for low-income households and the recently unemployed.
- Modernizes the nation’s health care infrastructure by investing $30 billion to upgrade hospitals to increase capacity and strengthen care, help community health centers respond to COVID-19 and future public health emergencies, improve clinical laboratory infrastructure, support the Indian Health Service‘s infrastructure and increase capacity for community-based care.
- Modernizes and strengthens the United States Postal Service by investing $25 billion to modernize postal infrastructure and operations, including a zero emissions postal vehicle fleet, processing equipment and other goods.
- Promotes new renewable energy infrastructure by incentivizing the development of wind and solar on public lands and building a workforce for offshore wind.
- Promotes investments in communities by spurring private investment through the tax code, through a revitalized Build America Bonds program, expansions of Private Activity Bonds, and significant enhancements to the New Markets Tax Credit and the Rehabilitation Tax Credit.
Meanwhile, last July, the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act bill passed the Senate Environment and Public Works committee unanimously – 21 to 0 in July 2019. The bill authorized $287 billion over five years, including $259 billion for programs to maintain and repair the country’s aging roads and bridges. The dysfunctional Congress at least at first blush is nowhere near a compromise on federal transportation funding. U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, delivered a blistering rebuke of the House Democrats’ infrastructure legislation. He said the bill was partisan and “is a road to nowhere. “It is going to see no light of day in the United States Senate.” The current highway infrastructure authorization bill, known as the FAST Act, expires on Sept. 30, 2020.
July 2020 Construction News cover article
Construction News back issues
Local Road Programs Advance; Officials Told, ‘Use It Or Lose It’
By GEORGE DRAPEAU III
ALBANY – Following months of campaigning by local highway superintendents, construction industry executives and hundreds of individual workers, three stalwart funding programs have been given the green light to proceed by New York State’s Office of the Budget, which announced in early June it will release funding to local municipalities to repair and maintain local roads, bridges and culverts.
The unprecedented fiscal and organizational strains caused by the COVID-19
“The vast majority of New York’s 1,600 municipalities receive no federal highway assistance, which is why we fight like hell to ensure your public works programs are supported every year in the state’s fiscal year budget.”
Ross J. Pepe & John Cooney, Jr. – Construction Industry Council
pandemic on New York State—and the concurrent uncertainties placed on public spending at every level of government—had delayed the allocation letters to municipalities from the Budget Office. This caused a setback for projects funded through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS), PAVENY, and the Extreme Weather Recovery Program, as well as BRIDGE NY. These programs are the financial lifeblood of New York’s local highway departments. Essential roads and bridges repairs and improvements are only made possible through these longtime funding formulas available to local government.
“We were extremely heartened two weeks ago when the word came from the New York Office of the Budget that statewide allocations for CHIPS and Marchiselli funding appropriations are now available to municipalities,” said Ross J. Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Inc. Mr. Pepe and CIC Executive Director John Cooney, Jr., wrote to hundreds of elected leaders and public works officials in a seven-county region, urging them to proceed with their capital programs as quickly as they can. “The vast majority of New York’s 1,600 municipalities receive no federal highway assistance, which is why we fight like hell to ensure your public works programs are supported every year in the state’s fiscal year budget,” they wrote.
There are several reasons that make this appeal so urgent, Messrs. Pepe and Cooney explained. “Time is working against us at this point. The pressure currently placed on New York’s highway contracting community and the shortened season due to the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders have compressed New York’s season to begin public works projects, which typically start up in May and continue through October. This time frame makes the situation of local highway infrastructure funding unique—and critical. If we delay, it might be too late for these essential infrastructure projects to be completed during this year.”
The association executives also noted that these local road funding programs are “use it or lose it” propositions. “You as an elected official with fiduciary responsibilities for your community must take action as the guardian of both the fiscal and physical safety of your citizens. Equally pressing is the need to allocate these funds in this 2020 construction season. Rollover balances may be jeopardized as the state works out ways to backstop next year’s forecasted reductions due to reduced federal COVID relief money and the expected decline in personal income tax revenues to the state. In otherm words, you must demonstrate to Albany now that you are spending every highway dollar available to you to ensure your allocations next year won’t be reduced.”
The 2020-21 enacted budget included $438 million for CHIPS, $39.7 million for the Marchiselli program, $100 million for PAVENY, $100 million for BRIDGE-NY and $65 million for Extreme Winter Recovery (EWR).
Messrs. Pepe and Cooney added, “We urge you to spend your local road funding on projects that maintain and improve your local infrastructure. Spending this money now will also put thousands of local residents back to work at this time of historically high unemployment to significantly benefit the local and state economy.”
Municipalities procuring road and bridge construction services each receive a chunk of CHIPS funding annually, determined through a calculation in the State Highway Law. While several factors are considered, the two most influential in how much is doled out are the inventory of roadways and motor vehicle registrations, according to the state Department of Transportation.
It was also estimated by the state Association of Town Superintendents of Highways that 87% of the state’s roads and over half of its bridges are owned and maintained by local government.
June 2020 Construction News cover article
Reopening to New Workplace Protocols, Stronger Calls for Infrastructure Investment
By JOHN JORDAN
ALBANY—Following 86 days of “New York on Pause,” broad swaths of construction and building activities in the Mid-Hudson region resumed on May 26. The good news arrived along with a lengthy list of new jobsite and office practices and protocols to protect workers and the public from the coronoavirus.
The Mid-Hudson became the eighth region in New York to reopen and will possibly reach Phase Two on June 9. Long Island reopened on Wed., May 27 and at press time New York City is expected to reach all seven metrics by June 8 for Phase One reopening.
The broader economy of the Mid- Hudson region had been all but shuttered since March 22, with the exception of essential businesses since the first of a number of executive orders from the state.
“For the past two months, the civil side of construction was lucky to operate through the shutdown, despite the many supply disruptions and evolving workplace requirements,” said John Cooney, Jr., executive director of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc. “We weren’t just flying the plane while we were building it. We were being asked to design it on the fly as well. This was completely unique in my 40 years of experience in construction.”
Going forward, he said there will be many revisions and changes likely. “This is going to be our way of life and how we earn our way to build our projects,” he explained on a Zoom meeting call to the membership of the trade association. “The first two jobs will always be to mitigate the spread of the disease and to keep our jobs going, in that order. As these regulations change, we will change too.” The program featured CIC Legal Counsel Thomas H. Welby, Esq., PE, and partner Thomas Tripodianos, Esq., of Welby, Brady & Greenblatt, LLP, answering questions posed live and online by CIC members.
Gov. Cuomo said that reopenings have been different in regions all across the state, but virtually all regions with the exception of New York City have met the same criteria to reopen. Specific to the construction industry, phase one reopens the following segments of the construction trades:
• Building Equipment Contractors
• Building Finishing Contractors
• Foundation, Structure, and Building Exterior Contractors
• Highway, Street and Bridge Construction
• Land Subdivision
• Nonresidential Building Construction
• Residential Building Construction
• Utility System Construction
While the civil side of construction continued through the “On Pause” period, non-essential commercial and residential was told to stand down. “If there was a silver lining during this stay-at-home period, it might be that public work projects were permitted to proceed at accelerated schedules because of the lack of traffic and human activity in or around jobsites,” said CIC President Ross Pepe. “These temporary closures enabled transportation and utility crews to jump on work and chew up some backlog.”
In Orange County, much of the commercial construction activities on a centerpiece project, the LEGOLAND New York Resort in Goshen, NY, were suspended, with only the infrastructure portion of the project on Route 17 permitted to continue during the “On Pause” period. On the first day back to work, Stephanie Johnson, general manager of enterprise, remarked, “We are excited LEGOLAND New York Resort has resumed construction for its 2021 opening following New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval for the Mid-Hudson Region to begin Phase 1 of reopening. Safety remains our highest priority and enhanced safety procedures to our operations have been introduced, in full compliance with the New York State requirements and best practice guidelines.” The governor’s Executive Order in March shut down the construction of the theme park, but did not halt infrastructure-related work, particularly on the construction of a new exit on Route 17 leading to the $350 million resort property. Among the recreation and leisuretime sectors, campgrounds and RV parks were opened statewide for the Memorial Day weekend statewide.
During his daily COVID-19 briefing on May 22, Gov. Cuomo said that in anticipation of the reopening, he would allow construction staging to commence in both regions.
The governor’s announcement of the reopening on May 26 for the Mid- Hudson was welcome news to business leaders, government officials and unemployed workers in the Mid-Hudson that have been anxiously awaiting the beginning of the phased reopening of the region. In recent days, county executives and other politicos, including U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, have said the Mid-Hudson region was poised and ready to begin the first phase of the reopening. “All of the cranes that you’ve seen that had to stop because they were not considered essential construction projects can now get restarted,” Westchester County Executive George Latimer said. “The men and women that work on those projects, the carpenters, the plumbers, the electricians, they go back to work.”
Rockland County Executive Ed Day said that, post COVID-19, residents and some businesses now based in New York City may look at counties in the Mid-Hudson as an attractive lifestyle alternative. “I think that folks in New York City are going to find places such as Westchester, Rockland and Orange and other counties in the Mid-Hudson region very attractive to them when they find they don’t have to go to New York City to work,” Mr. Day said. “They can come up to Westchester and Rockland and other places nearby and earn a living.”
It is believed that in two weeks the Mid-Hudson could qualify for phase two of the reopening, which would involve the professional services, retail, administrative support and real estate/ rental and leasing sectors. However, the governor’s office has stated that the governor has the discretion to move a region into another phase. At the May 26 press conference Mr. Latimer said he believes it will take at least two weeks for any region to qualify for an advancement to a higher phase. Phase three involves restaurants/ food services businesses and the final phase reopens segments of the arts/ entertainment/recreation and education sectors.
New $100M Small Business Loan Fund Launched
On May 22, the governor announced the launch of the $100-million New York Forward Loan Fund to provide flexible and affordable loans to help small businesses, focusing on minority and women owned small businesses, that did not receive federal COVID-19 assistance. Officials noted that the state will take a smart, targeted approach for distributing these loans, focusing on businesses with 20 or fewer employees and less than $3 million in gross revenues. Businesses interested in receiving a loan should visit esd.ny.gov/nyforwardloans.
Contractors Applying ‘Best Practices’ to Protect Workers, General Public from Virus Spread
By GEORGE DRAPEAU III
TARRYTOWN, NY—The construction industry is doing all it can to protect the general public from the spread of COVID-19. Operating under the notice to proceed from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on March 18, construction crews are pressing forward with infrastructure renewal projects as well as building programs in the downstate region.
Contractors and suppliers expressed hope that key personnel and crews can continue to deliver their projects to public and private owners. On Fri., March 20, all nonessential employees have been ordered to work from home, by order of Gov. Cuomo, starting Sun., March 22.
Businesses that violate the governor’s order will be subject to fines or forced closure, the governor said, adding, “This is not life as usual.”
Construction continues to operate as an essential service under an executive order issued by Gov. Cuomo in mid- March. Except for occasional projects, which have been slowed or delayed due to staffing shortages or proximity to quarantined communities, employers and leaders of organized labor are taking each day as it comes.
The operations of heavy civil and utility contractors continue to push ahead to protect and upgrade water resource and utility sectors.
“Crews are showing up fit for duty and public agencies are planning to continue with bid lettings for projects, even as workarounds to accommodate social distancing are ironed out.”
—John Cooney, Jr., Construction Industry Council
The construction industry is making every effort possible to keep workers and the public safe and to mitigate COVID-19 transmission risk on the job site. The industry is working under the policy of if you’re sick at all, stay home; if you’ve been in contact with someone with the coronavirus, stay home and get tested. And if you came into contact with someone rumored to have the virus, call before you report to work to determine next steps.
Speaking to CONSTRUCTION NEWS on Fri., March 20, one major contractor in the region announced that 50% of company’s office staff will begin working remotely, on a rotating basis, starting Mon., March 23. His team members, which include corporate legal and safety professionals, spelled out their provisions and protocols for the shop/ yard staff, salaried field employees, and the strict protocols for the many union crews on projects in the region.
The company is also “distributing comprehensive job hazard analysis notices to our subcontractors and vendors detailing its ‘zero-tolerance policy’ to drive home the point that if they have folks on-site that are symptomatic or feeling ill they need them to stay home,” the company’s legal counsel said.
The executive order from the governor on March 20 amended the requirement that all employers undertake workforce reductions (from 75% the previous day to 100%); Gov. Cuomo again excluded construction activity from this edict because it is considered an “essential business.” Until further notice, therefore, the industry is exempt from this executive order to enforce workforce reductions.
A veteran safety director in the downstate heavy-highway industry, who preferred to remain anonymous, noted that the health risks his work crews experience are different from other industries and sectors. “The majority of our work is isolated from the public; they do not have access to our work locations. We’re not working in the city like a building contractor. We’re spread out.” He said his company is sending daily reminders of personal hygiene requirements. “If the work requires the worker to be in a respirator then we make sure the individual is fit tested for the respirator for the task at hand,” he related. He also cautioned about the widespread images of disposable dust masks. “For one, it sends a false sense of security, and if you wear a dust mask all day when you go to take it off whatever might be on the filtration of the mask you’ve now put it on your hands.” He characterized his company’s safety policy efforts as “vigilant enforcement.”
On Wed., March 18, construction activity continued in the New York downstate region, with bucket trucks, cranes and crews showing up on both low-rise and hi-rise projects as well. “The work is ongoing,” said Jeff Loughlin, Business Manager of Operating Engineers 137 of Briarcliff Manor, NY. “But it’s very serious, and on construction
sites everyone is mindful of ‘Best Practices’ to mitigate risk and halt the spread of the virus. So far, we’re all reporting for work healthy and
we are taking extensive precautions to protect our crews and their families.”
In the Mid-Hudson region of Orange County, a major asphalt installer, Argenio Brothers, Inc., in New Windsor, NY on Thurs, March 19 said, “So far, the business is continuing,”according to company principal Genaro Argenio. “The supply chain has been slightly interrupted and our ability to get materials has been hampered, but we’re trying to push forward.”
Mr. Argenio said he has worked extensively with his professional advisors, OSHA and industry experts to ensure that all the pronouncements required to inform and protect workers and the general public have been followed. “I spent two days examining OSHA directives, speaking to lawyers and insurance professionals to ensure we got the verbiage right. We have to be very careful as managers and owners to be extremely accurate and direct when we communicate with our
“Teamsters are going to work each day in municipalities, cleaning the buildings and picking up sanitation. They’re the ‘unsung heroes,’ cleaning city hall, town halls, nursing homes and healthcare facilities.”
—Louis A. Picani, Teamsters L.U. 456
employees,” he said. Mr. Argenio applauded Gov. Cuomo for designating construction an essential business to continue when other industries have been told to halt operations. “Construction being exempt from stoppage is the right thing to do. That’s where the money starts, and the economy starts—at the ground level. Good infrastructure is essential to maintain our quality of life.”
Another leader of organized labor, Louis Picani, president of Teamsters Local 456 in Elmsford, NY, reported only a mild slowdown of employment in his union local, which he attributed to seasonal adjustments of work in the building and construction industries and not necessarily related to precautions to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus. “The public sector has altered work scheduling in the municipalities, towns, cities and villages, which is the front line of efforts to protect residents,” he said. “So yes, there has been a slight drop off in hours worked. Construction is slowing down, but that’s typical for this time of year during the late winter season.” He said the Teamster local is in contact with state officials in Albany and with other trade locals to increase training to qualify his members to handle hazardous materials.
“We have been in touch with the Governor’s office to be certified to collect and transport hazardous materials—those red bags that are placed outside. These materials need to be picked up and delivered properly to certified facilities.” He added, “Teamsters are going to work each day in municipalities, cleaning the buildings and picking up sanitation. They’re the ‘unsung heroes,’ cleaning city hall, town halls, nursing homes and health facilities. Yes, let’s salute the public officials and the health care workers for the great work they’re doing. But let’s not forget the unsung heroes who are putting themselves at risk every day.”
As of March 21, the statement from NYSDOT issued earlier in the week —that to combat the spread of COVID-19, nonessential NYSDOT employees will work from home until further notice, and that “All highway maintenance and active construction projects will continue as planned”— remained the operative and most current directive to the construction industry.
Westchester County Sets 20% ‘Realistic’ MWBE Goals
TARRYTOWN—An official with Westchester County tasked with revising new hiring goals for its minority and women business enterprise program (MWBE) said that Westchester intends to establish an MWBE participation goal of 20% on construction projects. The county is also setting a goal of 20% for professional services and 10% for the purchase of goods.
“We will now have the time to work with the Latimer Administration for a plan having realistic long-term goal setting and program features that offer reasonable rules and procedures.” —Ross Pepe, CIC President
Westchester County Director of Economic Development Bridget Gibbons informed members of the county’s MWBE Task Force on Jan. 15 that the county intends to establish the MWBE participation goals for the three categories following four months of research and meetings. Ross Pepe, president of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc., headquartered here and a member of the county’s MWBE Task Force, said the new 20% participation policy is workable for the industry. Based on the limited availability and numbers of companies that are registered as MWBE firms, the construction industry strongly objected to the higher quotas. “We will now have time to work with the Latimer Administration for a plan having realistic long-term goal setting and program features that offer reasonable rules and procedures,” Mr. Pepe said. Ms. Gibbons added in her memo to task force members that the newly established percentages will be increased over time to be aligned with New York State’s goals of 30% MWBE participation. Other MWBE program changes are also in the offing and were to be announced at an upcoming press conference by county government. Westchester County Executive George Latimer formed the county’s MWBE Task Force in August 2018 chaired by Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins. The task force was charged with expanding opportunities for MWBE firm in Westchester County. On another front, Westchester County government and the Building & Construction Trades Council of Westchester and Putnam Counties, Inc. and other industry interests are in ongoing discussions concerning workforce rules pertaining to development projects that secure incentives from the Westchester County Industrial Development Agency.
Coalition Urges Gov. Cuomo, Lawmakers To Boost NYSDOT Long-Term Capital Plan
By JOHN JORDAN
ELMSFORD, NY—A coalition of leading trade associations called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to increase capital spending for the maintenance, repair and replacement of the state’s road and bridge network by at least 20% in the upcoming budget cycle. At a press conference held on Jan. 17 in Westchester, construction industry executives united under the banner Rebuild NY Now joined with officials of organized labor and elected officials to decry the conditions of roadways in Westchester County. The representatives were unanimous in their call to renew NYSDOT’s multi-year capital plan, which expires on March 31, 2020. The group said based on the backlog of projects and systemic deferred maintenance, the program must be increased from $29.2 billion to at least $35 billion over the coming five years.
The event, organized by Rebuild NY Now, was hosted by Teamsters L.U. 456. Among those calling for more transportation funding were State Sen. Shelley Mayer, Westchester County Executive George Latimer and Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner. Both officials termed the state’s infrastructure as a crisis.
The Rebuild NY Now coalition is looking to sway Gov. Cuomo for the need for increased road and bridge spending in advance of the 2020 budget which begins April 1. The governor and State Legislature are facing a $6-billion budget gap, due mainly to rising Medicaid costs. Theresa Burke, secretary of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, said that nearly half of New York State’s local roads and bridges are in fair or poor condition. She added that local governments statewide would have to spend an additional $1.75 billion annually (not including New York City’s infrastructure) just to bring the system up to the level of good repair. Ms. Burke, who is Highway Superintendent for the Town of Red Hook in Dutchess County, said that the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) should be increased in the 2020-2021 budget from $438 million a year to $588 million; the Bridge New York program should have funding raised from $100 million a year to $200 million; the Pave New York funding levels hiked from $100 million to $200 million and local and federal construction ratcheted up from $100 million to $200 million. Among her other recommendations included the creation of a five-year $400-million City Routes program to assist municipalities charged with maintaining state tourism routes, including necessary sewer, water and utility work. Ms. Burke also related that the state should determine whether the Marchiselli Program is adequately funded at its current annual level of $39.7 million. “These suggested increases are necessary in order to provide the public with a safe and functional transportation system, one that supports jobs and economic growth for our communities,” she said.
“This is such an important partnership,” added Sen. Shelley Mayer (D-Westchester). “Rebuild NY Now pledges to push the executive (branch) to put the money into the budget for a five-year capital plan that makes sense for all of our districts, all of our regions and all of the state—and our neighbors and our friends—who are busy in good union jobs doing the work that we know needs to be done.”
Sen. Mayer said that she and her colleagues have fought hard to secure funding for I-684 improvements and for Route 100 (Central Avenue) from Tuckahoe Road south—upgrades that were both not part of NYSDOT’s five-year capital plan.
“These are essential parts of our infrastructure and should be part of our five-year plan,” she said. “They should be long term structural investments that make sense for the drivers and the people of our community.”
John Cooney, Jr., executive director of the Tarrytown-based Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc. (CIC) said, “Funding of our infrastructure is a smart investment. Our investment is falling behind. It puts people to work and provides living-wage jobs.”
In subsequent testimony to a New York State panel on transportation, Mr. Cooney emphasized, “It is evident that our federal government continues to neglect highway funding, so it becomes the responsibility of all states, including New York State, to increase the level of highway spending to address the backlog and stay current with maintenance and improvements.”
Among the host of elected officials who offered remarks at the press event included State Sen. Peter Harckham, who said that examples of the state’s crumbling infrastructure are evident on many state roads and bridges and should make the case for “the pressing need to repair, restore and renovate our critical infrastructure, especially roadways, bridges and transportation hubs.”
While acknowledging Gov. Cuomo’s call for a $3-billion environmental bond act and a projected $6-billion budget deficit, Sen. Harckham told CONSTRUCTION NEWS that the state can find the necessary revenue and funding sources to improve its roads and bridges. He noted that lending rates are at historic low levels at the moment.
“It’s time for comprehensive investments in our state’s infrastructure, strong,
collaborative leadership and a momentous commitment to assessing what needs to be done—and then completing the work,” Sen. Harckham said. “Moreover, these investments are proven to grow our economy, attract business and create good-paying jobs.” On Tues., Jan. 21 Gov. Andrew Cuomo released his FY2020-21 budget proposal containing his proposal for a two-year, $11.9 billion plan for the state’s DOT capital program.
“We are disappointed with the two-year term of the proposed capital plan but we understand that it is impractical to plan an overall transportation investment lacking a federal highway authorization,” CIC’s Mr. Cooney opined. “We encourage all New York State government leaders to fund a NYSDOT five-year capital plan in the range of $35 billion to $40 billion as soon as a federal highway funding plan is reauthorized.”
A host of organized labor leaders were on hand at the Jan. 17 press conference in Elmsford, NY, to lend support to the Rebuild NY Now’s efforts. Among the members of organized labor included: Edward Doyle, president of the Building & Construction Trades Council of Westchester & Putnam Counties; Jeff Loughlin, business manager of Operating Engineers L.U. 137; Stephen J. Reich, business manager of Laborers L.U. 754; Anthony Ascencao, business manager of Laborers L.U. 60 and Barry Russell, business manager of Teamster’s L.U. 445. Teamsters L.U. 456 President Louis Picani said the turnout at the event and participation by the many construction management and organized labor organizations, along with the support of elected officials from state, county and local governments, clearly show that infrastructure funding must be a priority. More than 80 people attended the press conference and rally.
“The neglect and erosion of infrastructure in New York State and here in Westchester County is an unfortunate sight,” Mr. Picani said. “We were provided with strong infrastructure proudly built by generations before us and because of the lack of maintenance those foundations that were once resilient are now crumbling beyond repair.” He continued, “Rebuilding and revitalizing our transportation infrastructure should be prioritized to address the crucial role for employees of present and future generations. Action needs to be taken immediately to remedy this infrastructure crisis as conditions are worsening with each passing day.”
Westchester County Executive Latimer said the county has been attempting to increase capital spending on county roadways and noted that the federal government must also commit to increased spending and a long-term transportation infrastructure spending plan. “Federal infrastructure improvement should be the bi-partisan issue of America today,” Mr. Latimer said. “There should be a discussion of the ways and means but not a discussion of the necessity of doing it.”
An aligned organization called 17-Forward-86 is advocating for $500 million to be included in the next NYSDOT capital plan to fund the expansion of Route 17 in Orange County and to undertake the improvements needed to upgrade the vital roadway to federal interstate standards to become I-86.
$1.7-Billion Project in South Bronx
With Sheridan Expressway Upgrades Now Complete, Gov. Launches $598M Design-Build Highway Plan
NEW YORK—Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced on Dec. 11 that the $75-million transformation of the Sheridan Expressway from an interstate highway to a pedestrian friendly boulevard is now complete, giving South Bronx residents and visitors a direct connection to the Bronx River waterfront and Starlight Park.
The transformational project is part of a $1.8 billion state investment in the South Bronx that was detailed by the governor. With the new and improved Sheridan project now complete, the governor also announced that work is now underway on a $598 million design-build highway improvement in the South Bronx, the first phase of a massive, $1.7-billion project to transform the neighborhood by reconstructing the interchange of the Bruckner Expressway and new Sheridan Boulevard, and improving access to the Hunts Point Market.
“For far too long, South Bronx residents have contended with noise, traffic and physical barriers that have limited mobility and economic growth,” Gov. Cuomo said.
“Even worse, generations of children had to contend with the pollution and asthma from truck traffic in the community. The new and improved Sheridan Boulevard corrects the planning mistakes of the past by protecting the health and safety of the South Bronx, by reconnecting local neighborhoods, and by improving access to the nearby Bronx River waterfront and parks.” He added, “The new Hunts Point project will build upon that success, further connecting the neighborhood to parks and the waterfront while reducing traffic on local streets and making it easier than ever to access the Hunts Point Market and the significant commerce it generates in the borough and throughout the entire region.”
Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., said, “This project has transformed an outdated interstate highway into a boulevard giving residents and visitors a direct connection to the Bronx waterfront and parks. This project realizes a vision Bronx residents have dreamed of for decades, and truly could not have happened without the governor’s leadership, and I thank him for helping to ensure the Bronx continues to grow and thrive for generations to come.
” The Sheridan Boulevard project reconfigured the Sheridan Expressway into an urban boulevard, reconnecting the Crotona Park, West Farms and Soundview neighborhoods. It includes three new crosswalks, as well as a new two-way bikeway along Edgewood Road leading to Starlight Park and the Bronx River Greenway. A new pedestrian bridge over the Bronx River connects StarlightPark to the multi-use path across the river and provides continuous travel for pedestrians and cyclists along the Bronx River Greenway.
The Hunts Point project, to be completed in three phases, will provide direct access to the Hunts Point Market from both the Bruckner Expressway and the new Sheridan Boulevard. The market is one of the largest wholesale food distribution centers in the world. More than 78,000 vehicles travel to the Hunts Point Peninsula daily—including 13,000 trucks using local roads—which has contributed to poor air quality in the community. The highway redesign will take traffic off local roadways, significantly reducing both noise and air pollution in a borough with some of the highest asthma rates in the country. The transformational project is expected to create 22,000 new jobs. Beginning this month, the first phase of the project will build three new ramps—a two-way ramp from Edgewater Road to the Sheridan and a ramp from eastbound Bruckner Expressway to Edgewater Road. It will replace four bridges over Bronx River Avenue and
Amtrak/CSX rail lines, as well as improve the intersection of Bruckner Boulevard and Hunts Point Avenue. The current overgrown Garrison Park will be transformed, giving residents access to the Bronx River. It also will construct a shared-use path between Concrete Plant Park and Garrison Park, enhancing safety for pedestrians and bicyclists. The project will improve the Lafayette Avenue intersection and build two new shared use paths along Edgewater Road and Bruckner Boulevard westbound. Under the Bronx River Avenue viaduct, new open space along the Bronx River will be constructed for the community. The portion of the Bryant Avenue pedestrian bridge spanning over Amtrak/CSX will be replaced. The project is being managed by the New York State Department of Transportation and is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2022. New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, “This initiative will reduce congestion and enhance safety for pedestrians and cyclists in the South Bronx, improving access to the Hunts Point Market, drawing the community together and connecting it with the Bronx River and local parks.” The Hunts Point Market is a vital economic engine for the Bronx, generating more than $2 billion in annual economic activity, state officials noted. It attracts tens of thousands of vehicles per day, which use local streets—particularly Westchester Avenue and Bruckner Boulevard— to go to and from the interstate highway network. The overall reconstruction project will transform the local roadway system by creating a flyover ramp from the new Sheridan Boulevard and a new eastbound exit from the Bruckner Expressway to Edgewater Road, which feeds directly into the market. The Sheridan ramp will remove heavy traffic and idling trucks from local roads and is expected to reduce travel time by an average of 30% for each truck that now travels on local streets. For westbound traffic on the Bruckner, the second phase of the Hunts Point project will construct new entrance and exit ramps at Leggett Avenue for more direct access to the market. The third phase of the project will eliminate the bottleneck at the Bruckner/Sheridan interchange by adding a third lane to the Bruckner in both directions. New signing and pavement markings will direct auto, truck and pedestrian traffic within the Hunts Point Peninsula.