One of these days, someone is going to be driving along and their vehicle is going to hit something far dreadful than a pothole.
It's no secret that New York's roads and bridges are in a horrible state, the victims of age, overuse, inadequate maintenance, old technologies, pollution, New York's wide ranging weather patterns and snow-and-ice removal chemicals.
According to some estimates, as many as 6,000 bridges and 60 percent of the state's roads are in need of repair or complete replacement.
While the condition of many of our traditional roads creates hazards, the real danger is in the status of overpasses passing over other roads and bridges that cross over water, where a significant deficiency can result in a tragedy.
We're already paying for their poor condition in repairs to our vehicles and loss of gas mileage, to the tune of $6.3 billion a year. But soon, someone might pay with their life. It's no exaggeration. It's that bad.
If New York's elected leaders don't want a tragedy on their hands, they're going to have to ensure that the state's roads and bridges get the necessary money they need.
Right now, there's a battle going on in the state Legislature, where the governor and lawmakers are negotiating next year's state budget. Before the budget due date of April 1, 12 days from now, they're going to have to come to agreement on some major expenses — most notably aid for education, social services programs and our crumbling transportation infrastructure.
The battle lines have been drawn between the money allocated for upstate roads and money allocated for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which controls public transportation (buses, subways, etc.) in the New York City area.
Where once the state allocated an equal amount of money to both — for reasons of fairness and approximately equal levels of need — funding for the MTA has in recent years has surged ahead of the areas outside the New York City metro area. From 1995 to 2009, funding for the MTA and the state Department of Transportation was roughly equal. But starting in 2009 through 2014, the MTA has received $5.2 billion more that the DOT, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo's executive budget perpetuates the difference, allowing it to rise to $6 billion.
Even more unfair than the inequity of the funding is the inequity of what upstaters pay for infrastructure. Since we drive more, we contribute more to the pot of money in gasoline taxes, DMV fees, parking fees and other charges that people who don't use cars as much don't have to pay. And some of that money finds its way into the MTA budget.
One problem is that the DOT doesn't provide a detailed five-year plan that spells out its needs, while the MTA does. If you're not sounding the alarm, then no one's going to respond to your emergency. So the DOT needs to do a better job articulating its needs if it's to get the attention of the lawmakers who control the funding.
There's no disputing that New York City is a vitally important part of our state's economy, and that the safety of its residents, visitors and commuters is just as important as that of upstate residents.
But no area of the state, upstate or downstate, big-city or rural, should be given short-shrift to the other when it comes to something so vitally important to the financial and physical well-being of its residents as transportation funding.
Equitable funding of both the MTA and the state Department of Transportation would go a long way to ensuring that all are served fairly , effectively and safely.
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