State’s road, bridge, rail infrastructure grim: DOT chief

The state transportation system will need more than $175 billion in capital investment over the next
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Categories: Schenectady County

The state transportation system will need more than $175 billion in capital investment over the next 20 years, Department of Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn told a forum at DOT headquarters Friday.

She painted a gloomy picture of “a system under stress,” with inadequate funding and old infrastructure that is about to produce “a deficient bridge wave” of aging structures needing repair or replacement.

Glynn said the state would, for the first time in 20 years, be producing a rail plan this spring, but would say little about specific projects. Asked about the long-delayed proposal to build a second rail track between Albany and Schenectady so as to eliminate that bottleneck and resultant delays, Glynn said it is “one of several projects that we are looking at.” But she said there are “a lot of rail priorities,” including improving service between Rensselaer and New York City.

Other DOT officials left the impression that the second track and another long-discussed local proposal, providing commuter rail service between Saratoga Springs and Albany, have a lower priority than maintaining the viability of aging highway bridges.

Willy Grimmke, superintendent of public works for Washington County, said he had attended a similar meeting in the same room in 2004. “Nothing has really changed,” he said. “The crisis has just gotten worse.”

But while transportation professionals know about the urgent need to fix infrastructure, Grimmke said, politicians may not, and most of the public is oblivious.

Grimmke spoke in the public comment part of the proceedings. Other speakers included Scott Lorey of the Adirondack Council, who called for alternatives to road salt, and actions to discourage invasive plant species and deal with the dangers of moose on roadways.

Don Reeb of the McKownville Improvement Association said the Capital Region needs more bus shelters and complained about the DOT plowing snow onto sidewalks after the town of Guilderland has cleared them.

Reeb also complained about the inadequacy of train service between Albany and Boston, which used to be a well-traveled rail route.

The DOT is holding regional forums around the state, and the theme of Friday’s one was energy and the environment.

Paul Tonko, president of the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, said, to widespread agreement, that federal government funding formulas should be revised to reward states like New York that are relatively efficient in their use of energy.

James Tripp, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, did not attract much support for his ideas to provide needed funding through a significant increase in gasoline taxes, fees on property developments, tolls levied in congested areas, and increased auto registration fees for inefficient vehicles.

Some panelists urged more aid for local transportation infrastructure.

So did two officials representing county and town highway superintendents who testified this week before the Joint Legislative Fiscal Committees. The officials, James Brady and David Bell, decried what they said were Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposed cuts in the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program. And, like some on the DOT panel, they said the inflated costs of construction materials are worsening their problems.

On the DOT panel, David Hamling, executive director of the New York Construction Materials Association, complained that mining permits are increasingly hard to get, which is not only bad for business, he said, but drives up the costs of construction and repair.

Anne Reynolds, director of the policy office at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said “Mining permits are the most controversial permits DEC works on.”

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