OPINION

Sen. Tom O'Mara: 'Local roads are essential'

N.Y. State Senator Tom O'Mara, Guest Columnist

Local roads are essential. 

That was one of the key messages being sounded at the State Capitol last week when Assemblyman Phil Palmesano and I, for the tenth consecutive year, were joined by legislative colleagues and local roads advocates from across New York to once again highlight the fundamental importance of a stronger state commitment to local roads, bridges, and culverts. 

N.Y. State Senator Tom O'Mara

In fact, more than 60 state Senators and members of the Assembly joined our call this year in a letter to Governor Kathy Hochul and legislative leaders in which we wrote, in part, “In the context of this moment in time, we believe a once-in-a-generation opportunity exists to do even more and truly set a long-overdue course for the improvement, maintenance, and repair of local roads, bridges, and culverts statewide …At a time of declining local pavement conditions, record state budget surpluses, and significantly increased federal aid, we strongly believe one of New York’s fundamental priorities is to finally remake a local transportation system that is so critical to the future recovery and success of local communities, economies, and environments across every region of New York State … We may never face a better opportunity or a more effective time to increase state funding for local roads, bridges, and culverts.” 

Since 2013, we have been proud to get behind the effort and raise awareness of the need.  

It’s made a difference. Over the past decade, through stronger state assistance distributed through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) program, and together with the PAVE-NY and BRIDGE-NY programs established in 2016, important increased state aid has been provided for New York’s counties, cities, towns, and villages.  

Still, an analysis by the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways (NYSAOTSOH) found that the local highway system outside of New York City faces an annual funding gap of $1.7 billion. Similar shortfalls and worsening conditions have been reported by the state comptroller and other advocates. 

Consequently, the New York State Association of County Highway Superintendents and the NYSAOTSOH annually undertake what’s become known as the “Local Roads Are Essential” advocacy campaign.

In her 2022-2023 Executive budget, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a $32.8 billion, five-year state Department of Transportation Capital Plan. The proposed Executive Budget holds baseline funding for CHIPS, Extreme Winter Recovery (EWR), and PAVE-NY at current year levels. The governor’s plan increases BRIDGE-NY funding by $100 million and creates a new “Operation Pave Our Potholes” (POP) program that will provide an additional $100 million in 2022-2023. 

We certainly welcome the governor’s commitment to infrastructure investment. We also believe it doesn’t go far enough to recognize this investment as one of state government’s core responsibilities. Therefore, we are calling on the governor and legislative leaders to strengthen the commitment to local transportation beyond the governor’s plan by the following four actions: 

1.) increasing the base funding level for the CHIPS program by $250 million to a total of $788 million;  

2.) increasing EWR funding by $50 million to $150 million;  

3.) distributing the $100 million proposed for the new “Pave Our Potholes” program utilizing the existing CHIPS/EWR aid formula to ensure equity and fairness; and 

4.) increasing the five-year, DOT Capital Plan to $44.1 billion, an $11.3-billion increase.   

New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen J. Acquario states, “Local roads and bridges are the critical arteries of our communities, carrying residents to work and school, goods to our businesses, and first responders to the scene of an emergency. We have an historic opportunity in this year’s budget to make the kind of transformational investment in local transportation infrastructure that will benefit generations of New Yorkers. That’s why we’re proud of our Governor’s budget proposal and look forward to working with our legislative partners on both sides of the aisle to call for a final budget that seizes this historic opportunity and increases funding for local roads, bridges, tunnels, culverts, and physical infrastructure.  Assemblyman Palmesano and Senator O’Mara have long championed the infrastructure funding needs at the local level and we are grateful for their continued leadership highlighting the need.” 

We have always stood together with New York’s county and town highway superintendents, and local leaders, and we will do everything we can to raise awareness and build legislative support.   

Local roads are essential to New York’s future.   

We have an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen this state’s commitment.  State investment in local transportation infrastructure is a fundamental responsibility and critical to the strength and success of local communities, economies, environments, governments, and taxpayers.  

New York State Senator Tom O'Mara represents the 58th District, which includes Yates, Steuben, Schuyler and Chemung counties and a portion of Tompkins County.