Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy called on federal representatives Thursday to work with municipalities to make infrastructure upgrades at the local level.
McCarthy testified for five minutes on the subject Thursday morning in front of the House of Representatives’ Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s Subcommittee on Water and Environment. He was among seven people who spoke.
Speaking on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, McCarthy made several suggestions during his testimony as to how Congress could help municipalities dealing with rising costs and deteriorating infrastructure. In the process, he touched on Schenectady’s successes and challenges in improving some of the city’s operations.
In terms of financing, the mayor asked Congress to increase assistance to cities on water and wastewater infrastructure efforts. Currently, he said, cities spend $115 billion per year on those operations, while Congress provides about $2 billion in funding.
He also asked federal lawmakers to push states to provide more money in the form of low-interest and zero-interest loans, and provide tools such as grants and municipal bond protection.
McCarthy also cited three other specific measures that Congress could enact to help improve municipal infrastructure. One is to pass The Water Quality Improvement Act of 2017, a bill that McCarthy said would help cities address combined sanitary sewer systems without placing a financial burden on low- or fixed-income residents.
A letter of support the bill, with signatures from two dozen mayors nationwide, was included in McCarthy’s testimony.
The city of Schenectady has a sewer system that dates back more than 100 years, McCarthy said. It consists of about 320 miles of public storm and sanitary infrastructure, and a wastewater treatment plant that serves Glenville, Scotia and other surrounding towns.
The city borrowed roughly $20 million last year for planned upgrades to the treatment facility.
In addition, McCarthy said, the city plans to rehab and reconstruct the North Ferry Street Pump Station. That project’s budget is set at $6.25 million, with $3 million of it coming from a Community Development Block Grant, and the rest financed through loans to the city.
McCarthy also asked lawmakers to reauthorize and enhance the Brownfields Law, which provides grants to cities and companies that clean up and reuse abandoned and environmentally unstable sites.
He said nearly every community has brownfield sites, and using such land often allows cities to reuse existing infrastructure rather than starting from scratch.
The mayor highlighted the ongoing Mohawk Harbor project, a $480 million effort by the Galesi Group, that is converting the old American Locomotive site into offices, apartments and hotels. The land underwent an extensive -- and expensive -- cleanup, with crews removing thousands of tons of metals and oil from the soil.
Finally, McCarthy pointed to emerging technology as a way for cities to improve infrastructure while cutting costs. He asked the House committee members to encourage and fund technology that would, for example, help detect pipe leaks, leading to faster repairs, or more accurately monitor water meters.
The final suggestion was tied to his testimony regarding his ongoing “Smart Cities” initiative, an effort the mayor laid out about two years ago that would, if successful, use technology to increase government efficiency and cut costs in Schenectady.
McCarthy noted that the city is already using roughly 200 smart street lights, which he suggested can save the city hundreds of thousands of dollars on energy costs alone. He hopes to pair the lights with Wi-Fi and transmitters that would allow the city to collect maintenance information and measure traffic patterns.
By implementing Wi-Fi, he told lawmakers, local police can download in-car video while out in the field, and city personnel can access data while out in the field instead of returning to the office.
“The 21st Century infrastructure cannot be ignored while we bear the burden of investment in the more traditional infrastructure, such as pipes and streets,” McCarthy said. “We find ourselves being passed by other cities throughout the world that are making these investments.”