Cash worries stall transport plans

The agency that approves all federal transportation spending for the Capital Region won’t conside


The agency that approves all federal transportation spending for the Capital Region won’t consider any more long-term infrastructure project requests until Congress comes up with a new transportation bill.

The Capital District Transportation Committee voted Thursday to indefinitely table any further consideration of its five-year transportation improvement program, which now goes through 2015.

“Based on what we’re already committed to, it could [take] eight or nine years at our current funding levels,” said John Poorman, the committee’s executive director. “To consider more would be too speculative.”

But Poorman readily acknowledged that the demand for infrastructure improvements — particularly with an aging interstate highway system — is only going to grow.

Cohoes Mayor John T. McDonald III, who chairs the committee’s policy board, said, “There’s no shortage of problems, just a shortage of resources.”

The committee controls federal transportation funds for Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, parceling out money for mass transit, highway and bridge improvements, and alternative projects like bike trails. The problem it now faces is that there hasn’t been a long-term federal transportation bill in place since 2009 — making it hard to plan how much money will be available for future improvements.

“They are kicking the can down the road,” Poorman said of Congress.

President Obama’s 2012 budget proposes a new $556 billion, six-year transportation bill — twice the amount of the last transportation bill, which covered 2003-2009. But that proposal will be subject to negotiation with a hostile House of Representatives and its fate is unknown.

Poorman said there’s a “very serious conflict” between the desire for transportation improvements and politicians’ fear of raising taxes to pay for them.

The projects CDTC has already approved for the 2010-2015 period total more than $1 billion. Among them are the $70 million replacement of the Patroon Island Bridge on I-90 in Albany, a $15.2 million Northway Exit 3 to the Albany International Airport, and reconstruction of Route 50 and Route 67 in Saratoga County. The current plan lists all those projects for construction in 2014-2015 — an indication they won’t really happen until guaranteed funding is in place.

The committee’s action Thursday at its offices in Colonie means no further projects will be considered for addition to the list.

bus service

The CDTC policy board also heard a presentation on the pending launch of BusPlus on Central Avenue between Schenectady and Albany. The launch is now scheduled for April 4.

The Capital District Transportation Authority initiative will offer an express service between the cities, stopping only at 18 newly designated stations between the two cities. It will cost $2 to ride, though CDTA officials said the first two weeks will be free, as an inducement to try it.

“It’s hard, because we’re trying to teach people something new when they’ve been doing it the same way for 30 years,” said CDTA Executive Director Carm Basile.

The Central Avenue corridor is CDTA’s busiest, with about 3.5 million riders annually. Once the express service is established, the authority hopes ridership there will increase by as much as 40 percent.

There’s been around 15 years of planning put into BusPlus, and the authority has spent $16.5 million in federal funding on new hybrid buses, building new bus stations, and making technology improvements that will speed the service.

“It’s been a long time coming. It’s probably long overdue,” Basile said.

CDTA has already seeing a jump in ridership, he said, because of the recent spike in gas prices.

Categories: Schenectady County

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