Demanding equity for our roads

Jeffery Smith
Yates County Legislature Chairman Timothy Dennis speaks during the Local Roads Matter rally in South Corning Monday.

State legislators, highway superintendents and other leaders from throughout the area held a rally Monday to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to give upstate its fair share for roads and bridges.

State Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, pointed out a recent agreement between Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to deliver a $8.3 billion, state-funded investment, to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to improve downstate mass transit.

“If Cuomo and legislative leaders are going to find billions for downstate mass transit in next year’s budget, we want to make sure that local roads, bridges and culverts across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, receive a fair share of state assistance through (the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program) and other investments,” O’Mara said.

State Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, said the issue is not upstate against the downstate.

“It’s having parity between the MTA and upper New York,” Palmesano said.

Tim Dennis, chairman of the Yates County Legislature, said it’s often difficult for local counties to stay within the state tax cap and do more with less to upgrade ailing city roads and bridges.

“It’s time Cuomo realizes this and does something about it,” Dennis said.

Vince Spagnoletti, Steuben County commissioner of public works, agreed.

“It’s all one state; it should be treated that way,” Spagnoletti said. “Spread the money the way is should be.”

O’Mara and Palmesano say they will continue to stress that there’s nothing even approaching parity for CHIPS funding and other state investments in roads, bridges, and culverts locally and statewide.

For the past three years, O’Mara and Palmesano have led 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). This year’s effort drew the support of 114 state legislators, or more than half of the State Legislature’s entire membership.

During this time, beginning with the 2013-2014 state budget, CHIPS funding has been increased by approximately $125 million to an overall level of $488.1 million.

As a result, area counties, cities, towns and villages have seen funding increases.

But O’Mara and Palmesano point to estimates from the state comptroller that there will be $89 billion in unmet local infrastructure needs over the next 20 years. With the property tax cap and shrinking local revenues, they said, CHIPS funding is absolutely critical to helping local communities and taxpayers, especially upstate – noting that municipalities own and maintain 87 percent of the roads in the state, own and maintain 52 percent of New York’s 18,000 bridges, and that 48 percent of the vehicle miles driven in the state are driven on local roads.