Governor budgets for bridge repairs

A bridge collapse in Minnesota last summer raised concerns about the country’s aging infrastructure.

A bridge collapse in Minnesota last summer raised concerns about the country’s aging infrastructure.

This fall, the New York State Department of Transportation reported that about 12 percent of the highway bridges in the state are classified as structurally deficient, while another 26 percent are classified as functionally obsolete.

In an effort to address this issue, Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s 2008-09 state budget dedicates $140 million to upgrade state and local bridges. This project would be funded by increasing the annual auto insurance fee from $5 to $20.

Specifically, the new revenues will provide $13 million for 10 state Department of Transportation bridge maintenance crews to perform year-round bridge inspection repairs, $67 million for maintenance and capital contracts on state bridges and $60 million for capital grants to municipalities to enhance the maintenance and repair of local bridges. Overall, 339 new positions would be created to support the state and local bridge preservation program.

Steve Stallmer, executive director for member services of the New York state chapter of the Associated General Contractors of America, a group that advocates for increased spending on transportation infrastructure, said his group is awaiting more details on the budget, but “we did see some things we definitely like. The state is making a commitment to shoring up bridge conditions. We were pushing the state to take action before the Minnesota tragedy.”

The budget also provides $30 million to improve the speed and reliability of Amtrak connections between upstate New York and New York City. A spokesman for the state Division of Budget said the state has yet to determine exactly where those improvements will be made.

Bruce Becker, a spokesman for the Empire State Passengers Association, which advocates for fast, reliable rail service, said the group is pleased that the budget includes funding for rail service.

“There’s certainly much to be done,” he said.

Last year, the state committed $22 million to improving rail service between New York City and the Capital Region; at the Rensselaer train station, a fourth track will be added to reduce the time needed to turn trains around for the return trip downstate. Another $6 million will be spent at the Hudson train station.

“We hope [the funding in next year’s budget] will be used wisely and on other projects,” Becker said. He suggested a second track be built between Schenectady and Rensselaer to “eliminate that bottleneck.

“A prevalent problem with Amtrak is its reliability,” he said.

Becker added that the state should look at rail projects throughout the state, not just between Albany and New York City.

Overall, Spitzer’s proposed Department of Transportation budget for 2008-09 is $7.72 billion; in 2007-08, the state appropriated $7.35 billion. The proposed budget also allocates a record level of aid — $173 million — to the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Categories: Schenectady County

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