State’s deteriorating infrastructure poses threat, lieutenant governor says

New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch warned today that the entire Northeast is threatened by rapidly de

New York Lt. Gov. Richard Ravitch warned today that the entire Northeast is threatened by rapidly deteriorating New York City bridges and that the state has “no credible strategy” to pay for already announced mega-projects.

Critical to transit into and around New York City is the long-delayed replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, built in 1955 when it carried one-tenth of its current volume, and the Kosciusko Bridge, the pre-World War II span that carries the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway between the two boroughs.

But “transformative” projects that politicians have long promised to drive prosperity are also threatened, he said. Among them: Higher speed rail, a Metro-North connection at Penn Station in Manhattan, and “desperately needed” upgrades and expansions at New York City’s seaports and airports.

“While politicians often speak of doing more with less, the fiscal reality of the next decade may dictate that New Yorkers learn to do less with less,” Ravitch wrote in the report, his latest on the fiscal crises facing the state.

The report said more and new taxes, fares and tolls are needed, as are drastically reduced environmental reviews for mass transit projects.

Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ravitch also recommended approval of a state law that would allow “design-build” contracts.

That increasingly popular approach makes a contractor responsible for design and construction, which is meant to make the projects more attractive to bid on because developing a proposal can be expensive. Because there would be fewer contracts, however, the change would limit the number of contract winners.

“New York will continue to lose the edge to global rivals like Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore if it insists on handcuffing itself with outdated procurement policies,” Ravitch stated.

“The state is, in effect, spending more than ever before on its transportation program, but getting less,” Ravitch said. “If New York fails to devise a realistic blueprint for the years after 2011-12, it can expect the deterioration in conditions to accelerate, resulting in increased safety risks, traffic delays, and associated costs.”

Sen. Thomas Libous, a Broome County Republican who has called for years for more infrastructure funding, said: “He’s right, but I think we can be creative.” He said privatization — the selling of state assets to companies — is one way to improve infrastructure without increasing fares and taxes. Democrats, however, have blocked major privatization efforts so far.

Libous said private developers could buy a piece of the Tappan Zee, getting the state out of billions of dollars in construction. A big complication, however, is that the public work force represented by powerful labor unions who are concerned about privatization.

Ravitch said shortsighted planning based more on politics than sound finances have pushed off a huge debt today for the sake of short-term financing and free holiday fare gimmicks that only served to delay tax, fare and toll increases, Ravitch said.

The head of the New York Building Congress trade group said Ravitch’s report “expertly lays out the challenges and choices we must confront regarding New York’s vast network of roads, bridges and mass transit. His report can serve as a blueprint for the Cuomo administration and the state Legislature,” said the group’s president, Richard T. Anderson.

The report also warns of potential problems with New York’s energy, drinking water and the waste and sewer systems.

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