Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who usually likes to chat with the press, left the grand reopening without answering questions.
State Sen. George Amedore and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara were no-shows to the event, citing the pending end of the legislative session.
And Bill Finch, the acting director of the Thruway Authority, said questions about whether it would have been more cost-effective to better plan the facility at the outset — rather than spend $4.5 million on an expansion less than a year after the $7.5 million building was completed — were “hypothetical right now.”
It’s no wonder politicians are running away from the question of why the state needed to spend $12 million on a new “Mohawk Valley Welcome Center,” located along the westbound Thruway between Exits 28 and 29.
Call it whatever you want. But it’s still just a Thruway rest stop, a place for motorists passing through to get something to eat or drink, take a bathroom break and maybe pick up a souvenir and a few brochures.
That’s what most people use these things for. Yet the state not only thought it fitting to initially spend $7.5 million on the original project, but decided only weeks after the grand opening that the structure and surrounding property needed a $4.5 million upgrade that included solar panels, a car-charging station, pet potty area and an Erie Canal-themed playground. Read that sentence out loud and see how ridiculous it sounds.
The building was paid for with Thruway toll revenue, which many in-state motorists pay. The expansion came from tax dollars.
Just a couple of days ago, we lamented the state’s questionable spending habits. Specifically, we questioned the wisdom of building a $15 million gondola over the parking lot of the state fairgrounds in Syracuse while the city of Gloversville was finagling the financing to fix its leaky 117-year-old sewer pipes.
We’re all for tourism promotion. And nice highway amenities do leave a nice impression. But it all has to have a return value.
Before state taxpayers and drivers cough up millions of dollars for a gondola ride or a glorified bathroom/restaurant along an interstate, elected officials should be demanding and receiving evidence about whether such expenditures justify what taxpayers will get in return.
Both Amedore and Santabarbara did say they asked about the need for the rest area expansion so soon after the original project was completed. But neither has gotten satisfactory answers to their questions — at least none that they’ve conveyed to their constituents.
So far, neither have the taxpayers nor the people who pay tolls on the Thruway.
If someone can show an example in a similar location (Long Island isn’t Montgomery County, by the way.) of where a fancy rest area with computerized kiosks and other bells and whistles will convince travelers to spend an equivalent amount of their disposable income in a community or a region, then fine. Let’s see the proof. If it’s worth it, we’ll pay for it.
But so far, no one has demonstrated that this project was worth the original $7.5 million, let alone another $4.5 million to spruce it up with nonessential extras.
This kind of wasteful spending is murdering this state. Who’s going to step up and stop the bleeding?