SPANNING THE NEWS: “Old” York needs billions—fast

Feb. 10, 2005

New York wants to feel like new again. However, according to a study titled Transportation—Trouble Ahead, that could take tens of billions of dollars over the next five years.

New York wants to feel like new again. However, according to a study titled Transportation—Trouble Ahead, that could take tens of billions of dollars over the next five years.

The 28-page research study, which contains the work of the New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation Policy for 2025, stresses the immediate need of a seamless multimodal transportation system, stating “if bold leadership is not shown and adequate, meaningful funding is not provided, the infrastructure will deteriorate, the economy will falter, jobs will be lost and the quality of life in New York State will suffer dramatically.”

After the panel heard countless hours of concerns from stakeholders it came up with primary findings:

  • The transportation system is under stress, and conditions will worsen unless New York state dramatically changes the planning, investing, managing and institutional relationships that drive the system;
  • The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) must lead a comprehensive effort to optimize the transportation system in the state. The multiple transportation operations in the state must be integrated to form a seamless system that delivers significantly improved service while enhancing the environment; and
  • New York state must develop a new strategy that provides substantial, sustainable and predictable funding dedicated to transportation investments.

“My sense is the commissioner thinks this report really lays out the issues and problems,” Dr. Robert Paaswell, director and distinguished professor of engineering at the University Transportation Research Center, told Roads & Bridges. The center helped produce the final report. “There’s an incredible consensus in the fact that we’ve got an aching infrastructure, that we have an incredible demand on the infrastructure and that we need to make our agencies much more multimodal.”

New York highways and bridges are indeed sending out distress signals. According to the report, the average highway condition rating shows a drop in the average surface rating from 7.05 in 2000 to 6.86 in 2003. The study reveals that 37% of New York’s bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.

Congestion, transit, air traffic and the state’s railroad system also received comprehensive evaluation, and the panel concluded that each area is under identical duress.

Funding will be the real challenge. New York upgraded its transportation system in the 1990s through a series of bonds. The report, however, reveals that “the rising cost of debt service to finance prior commitments has reduced the pool of funding available to meet existing and future needs for all modes. In 1995 New York State paid $73.7 million for highway debt service. By 2002 that amount had risen to $715 million.”

Despite the hurdles, NYSDOT seems committed to rectifying the current state of affairs.

“This is different than what the DOT did 20 years ago, when each region came up with small-scale projects and the state tried to fund everyone equally,” said Paaswell. “The state DOT has to have the ability to look at the state network as a whole network and identify the pressure points.”