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Labor leaders call for additional infrastructure funding in Buffalo to combat inflation

Posted at 6:06 PM, Mar 09, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-13 11:27:59-04

On Thursday morning a coalition of construction and organized labor leaders called on New York State to invest in deteriorating roads and bridges in Western New York.

“Need to increase funding year to year, at least at the rate of inflation, so we can keep up and get the amount of work done that Western New York residents deserve," said Bill Fekete, President of the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 17.

The New York State Department of Transportation said Governor Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget includes $7 billion for the second year of the Capital Plan to improve highways, bridges, rail, aviation infrastructure, and transit across the state, including $1.2 billion in direct local assistance for local roads and bridges.

However, the coalition called for even more funding on Thursday. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, New York has the sixth highest number of structurally deficient bridges in the nation.

"Every year Western New York has some of the worst road conditions," said Brad Buyers, FAIR committee of WNY co-chairman. Buyers pointed to the Louisiana Street bridge over Exchange Street during the Thursday morning press conference, as one example of a crumbling bridge.

The Louisiana Street bridge is divided into 11 spans. The New York State Thruway Authority, which owns the span that runs over the 190, said the overall rating for the bridge is a three out of seven, which is poor. The last time it was inspected was December 1 of 2021, and is scheduled to be re-inspected in December of 2023.

The group on Thursday morning said the poor conditions of roads and bridges are costing drivers, and pose a risk to safety. However the thruway authority said that just because a bridge or road is listed in poor condition, that doesn't mean it's not safe. If a road or bridge was unsafe, the thruway authority said it would be closed.

According to AAA, 1 in 10 drivers had to repair their cars from pothole damage in 2021, costing each driver an average of $600.

State Senator Tim Kennedy, who is the chair of state transportation, said the state poured more than 17 million dollars in road funding into the city of buffalo alone last year, an 186% increase from 2018. Kennedy told 7 News:

Year after year, my state colleagues and I advocate for more infrastructure funding through the state budget, and this year is no different. We recognize that as costs continue to rise, so too must dedicated dollars that support critical road projects across New York.

Perspective is important in any discussion. In 2018, under the last budget when the Senate Democratic Conference was in the minority, Buffalo received under $6 million in road funding. Last year, under very different leadership and now in the majority, we dedicated more than $17 million to the city - a 186% increase in funding. That kind of historic investment is mirrored in communities across New York State. Since I've become Chair of the Transportation Committee, we've also created new sources of funding through the City Touring Routes program and Pave our Potholes program, and finalized a monumental $32.8 billion DOT Capital Plan that will finance transformative projects statewide. We still have work to do, but make no mistake - the Senate Majority has, and will continue to deliver real sources of funding for New York's infrastructure every day.

The state budget is due April 1. The New York State Department of Transportation notes the following:

  • Compared to the previous five-year DOT Capital, the current plan represents an increase of $9.4 billion, or 40%.
  • More than $6.1 billion was provided over the current five-year plan period for local highway programs, an increase of 69% over the last five-year plan.
  • The budget provides the second year of an annual $100 million for the local Pave Our Potholes program, $150 million in highway aid through the PAVE NY program and $200 million to fund local projects from the BRIDGE NY program. 
  • The Executive Budget provides $5 million of new funding to advance planning for projects that utilize a complete street design approach to transportation infrastructure.
  • The plan advances projects to replace the Livingston Avenue Bridge in Albany, reconnect neighborhoods across the Kensington Expressway in Buffalo, convert Route 17 to I-86 in Orange and Sullivan Counties, and the replacement of I-81 in Syracuse.
  • The capital plan also funds more than $80 million in state and local bridge and culvert projects and more than $90 million of State and Local paving projects in Western New York.  Projects include the reconstruction of the U.S. 20 Bridge over the Cazenovia Creek and the State Route 277 rehabilitation.