A bi-partisan group of state and local officials met Wednesday to call on Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature to support a $3.5 million plan to expand the Capital District Transportation Authority into Montgomery County.
State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, said CDTA buses already run routes through Montgomery County into Fulton County, but they don't stop in Montgomery County. He'd like that to change.
"The idea is to close this gap that the city of Amsterdam and Montgomery County have, and bring connectivity to the county. It will take an investment from the county, as well as the state. I'm asking the state to invest $3.5 million to kick this off," Amedore said.
Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort said he supports a plan for his county to contribute $300,000 to the expansion of CDTA into his county. He said he it will be up to the Montgomery County Legislature whether to approve using a portion of the county's Mortgage Tax revenue or increase that tax to pay for the CDTA expansion plan.
"[T]hat is a worthwhile investment... with that $300,000 we can leverage all in all more than $4 million, mostly of state resources, and there will be a positive return on this investment," he said. "I do believe, relatively speaking our Mortgage tax rate is on the lower end, so there is some room there to fund this initiative."
CDTA currently services Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga and Rensselaer counties, in total covering 2,300 square-miles of territory.
Montgomery County has been without a public transportation system since the city of Amsterdam abolished its Transportation Department in April 2018. City officials attributed a $761,019 accumulated fund balance deficit to the now defunct service.
On Wednesday Amedore, Amsterdam Mayor Michael Villa, Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, Ossenfort, FMCC President Dustin Swanger and CDTA CEO Carm Basile, along with some other proponents of the expansion plan, all met in Room 130 of the Legislative Office Building in Albany.
Villa said securing state funding for CDTA routes into Montgomery County would help reinforce the state's choice to award Amsterdam the $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative grant.
“Particularly given Amsterdam’s proximity to the City of Schenectady and the Capital Region, this solution to have CDTA expand west into Montgomery County makes perfect sense," Villa said.
Ossenfort said there is a great need for public transportation in Montgomery County.
"This is an issue that is incredibly hard to tackle. Five years ago Montgomery County was poised for growth, now we're seeing growth, especially in the Route 5S corridor. We know employers are reaching out, trying to make connections to employees, and a lot of times the issue is transportation," he said.
Beech Nut Nutrition Company Vice President Eric Clemens said 55 percent of Beech Nut's employees drive 1.5 hours a day to get to and from the company's headquarters/production plant in the Town of Florida Business Park. He said the lack of public transportation means employees have to drive themselves.
“This has lead to an increase in turnover, as well as a challenge with continuing to attract talent," he said.
Swanger said Fulton Montgomery Community College students often express the need for more transportation options.
“I hear from students often that our public transportation system is inadequate,” he said.
Basile said he's worked with the leaders supporting the expansion plan and believes CDTA could expand its services with the increased funding.
“As the region’s mobility manager, we offer a menu of programs and services that connect people to jobs, recreation and education. It would be no different in Montgomery County," he said.
Amedore said he believes the plan has a chance to become a part of the state's budget.
"The state is going to invest $10 million into the Downtown Revitalization Initiative into Amsterdam, and that's all great, but if you don't have public transportation, how are people going to be serviced and circulate around? How are they going to get from point A to point B? It's one thing that's lacking in the county and that's why I want to put an end to it, and make a small investment from the state, with skin in the game from the county," he said.
Santabaraba indicated his strong support for the CDTA expansion.
“With this proposal we have an opportunity to meet the current and future mobility needs of Montgomery County—a smart investment in our upstate region that will strengthen the local economy and support job creation," Santabarbara said.