Rotterdam is what’s known as an “inner ring” suburb, one of the early suburbs that have since been surpassed by newer ones further out, and that now have many of the same kinds of problems as cities. Think Hamburg Street, with its crumbling and missing sidewalks, treeless landscape and empty businesses with parking lots in front.
A few years ago it looked as if significant help was on the way, with $5.7 million in federal money for a reconstruction project including sidewalks, bicycle lanes, on-street parking and landscaping, to be done in 2014. But the state Department of Transportation has kept pushing back the $250,000 it allotted for design work and engineering for the project, under a Cuomo administration policy that ranks projects in terms of their statewide significance and favors repairs and replacement of existing infrastructure over improvements and new amenities.
DOT will make some money available — around $80,000 — to build a sidewalk for roughly one-fifth of a mile between an elementary school and the Rotterdam Senior Center. Small as the project is, it has been greeted with enthusiasm by town officials and Hamburg Street merchants, who hope it is a sign of more to come.
So do we, because the larger project is about more than transportation; it’s about quality of life, environmental improvement and economic development. Making Hamburg Street pedestrian-friendly and mixed-use would attract more residents and more customers for businesses, existing as well as new ones. These are the same reasons why even newer suburbs have been trying to create walkable town centers.
To get the project placed on the Capital District Transportation Committee’s five-year Transportation Improvement Program, which directs federal funding to local projects, the town tweaked its zoning regulations and adopted design guidelines. It did what it had to do. It’s time for DOT, which hasn’t made improvements to the state-owned Hamburg Street corridor in 40 years, to do what it should do and make a commitment to this project.