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What you need to know for 04/28/2017

Study: Area's roads cost you $1,622 a year

Study: Area's roads cost you $1,622 a year

Potholes are currently the most obvious problem, but there’s more wrong with Capital Region’s roads
Study: Area's roads cost you $1,622 a year
Traffic moves along the northbound lane of Interstate 87 in Halfmoon near the Clam Steam Road overpass on Wednesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Potholes are currently the most obvious problem, but there’s more wrong with Capital Region’s roads than that, according to a transportation research group’s new report.

TRIP, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group, estimates that roads in poor condition cost drivers in the Capital Region an average of $1,622 each year — due to higher vehicle operating costs, unnecessary crashes and congestion-related delays. The total statewide cost of such problems was put at $20.3 billion.

In a report on state road conditions released Wednesday, TRIP urged more federal money be spent on highways. TRIP is funded by insurance companies and labor unions, engineering consultants, equipment manufacturers and others with a stake in transportation spending, but it identifies itself as nonpartisan.

The report was released as renewed congressional debate is expected this year on transportation. The primary federal roads spending bill expires Sept. 30.

The region’s congressmen and the state Department of Transportation said they agree with the findings.

TRIP found that across New York state, 45 percent of major roads and highways give motorists a rough ride, and more than a quarter of the state’s bridges need replacement, reconstruction or rehabilitation.

TRIP said urban roads are becoming more congested, with drivers wasting significant amounts of time and fuel each year because of traffic delays.

“These conditions are only going to get worse if greater funding is not made available at the state and federal levels,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director.

TRIP’s New York report is one of a series of state-by-state reports being released around the country in advance of Congress tackling transportation funding.

The current two-year, $105 billion federal transportation bill, called MAP-21, expires Oct. 1. Its renewal is expected to spur a fresh debate in Congress over transportation spending versus calls for spending cuts.

The debate is a familiar one. Because of philosophical disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over spending, the last transportation bill to run the traditional six years expired in 2009, and there has been no agreement on a new six-year plan.

In a recent report, the American Society for Civil Engineers gave the national infrastructure a D-plus grade, with an estimated $3.6 trillion in spending needed to fix it.

Two local congressmen said Wednesday they agree with the thrust of TRIP’s report.

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said President Obama has proposed bills that would put billions more into transportation improvements, but they aren’t likely to come to a vote under the House Republican leadership.

“If you want to strengthen the economy you need to invest in infrastructure, education and research,” Tonko said in an interview. “We need to do a robust infrastructure bill that will grow the economy.”

The Highway Trust Fund, which is funded by the federal gasoline tax and is supposed to pay for transportation improvements, has seen its revenue drop in recent years as people drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles, and it is now close to insolvency.

That has prompted calls for finding other funding mechanisms. “We need to have a roundtable discussion about that,” Tonko said.

U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, said he agrees with TRIP that transportation infrastructure needs attention.

“I wholeheartedly agree with the basic findings of the TRIP report released today — that increased investment in our transportation infrastructure is a vital component for long-term economic growth,” Gibson said in a statement.

He is a co-sponsor of legislation that would establish a $50 billion fund from which the federal government would make loans to state and local governments to pay for infrastructure projects.

“I support a fully funded, robust federal highway bill and look forward to the reauthorization process next year,” Gibson said. “During those negotiations, we hope to identify additional revenue to address our aging infrastructure in New York, especially the hundreds of deficient bridges in the Capital District.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, whose 21st Congressional District includes Fulton and northern Saratoga counties, wasn’t available for comment Wednesday.

The state Department of Transportation responded to the report with a statement noting that 2,100 miles of road and 120 bridges have been repaired under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY Work programs, but agreeing that more money is needed.

“Federal funding for roads in New York state is a major issue, given the age of our infrastructure, weather conditions and high traffic volumes,” said DOT spokesman Beau Duffy. “Federal funding has been flat since 2009, while needs continue to increase.”

The AAA auto club said it supports TRIP’s findings.

“The looming crisis has not translated into political action,” said John A. Corlett, AAA’s New York legislative committee chairman. “Transportation funding may not be a popular issue on Capitol Hill, but elected officials must demonstrate the leadership needed to rescue our transportation system from obsolescence.”

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