CAPITAL REGION -- Even though bus ridership has plunged in the last two weeks as more people who normally ride to work stay home to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Capital District Transportation Authority is moving forward with long-term capital projects.
The CDTA board, holding its monthly meeting Wednesday by teleconference hosted at CDTA's Albany headquarters, adopted a $97.7 million budget for the coming fiscal year, awarded multi-million-dollar construction contracts for new service expansion projects, and bought land next to its headquarters for future employee parking.
"For the first two-thirds of the month it was pretty normal, but it came to a screeching halt around March 15 or so," said CDTA CEO Carm Basile. “The coronavirus has basically now consumed the day for just about everyone on staff.”
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's executive orders that non-essential businesses close and non-essential employees work from home has caused bus ridership to drop from an average of 60,000 daily to about 35,000. But the governor also declared that public transportation is an essential service.
On Monday CDTA reduced scheduled service weekdays on most routes to Saturday levels, but Basile said it had to almost immediately add buses on some trunk routes, since the buses were nearly full.
“When we needed to pivot, with the cooperation of labor, we were able to get it done," Basile said.
The authority is working on using excess bus capacity to deliver meals to home-bound school children and other initiatives, Basile said. So far, he said nobody working at the authority has tested positive for COVID-19, "but it's probably only a matter of time."
The operating budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1 is $97.7 million, up about 8 percent from this year's budget. The board also approved a $425 million, five-year capital plan, which projects the creation of planned bus rapid-transit routes between Troy and Albany and between downtown Albany and the Crossgates Mall/University at Albany area; purchase of more electric buses and electric charging infrastructure; and facilities improvements. Much of the future work doesn't have funding yet, though the authority is pursuing grants.
"Since it is such uncertain plans, there is a Plan B, we actually have a Plan C," Basile told the board.
“The bottom line is, though this is an excellent budget, we may have to revisit it," said board member Mark Schaeffer of Albany.
The contracts awarded on Wednesday included a $4.6 million contract for constructing new bus stations at the Harriman campus west and the downtown University at Albany location -- part of the planned bus rapid transit project. A $3.1 million contract was awarded for signals, lighting, curb extensions, crosswalks and other improvements along the planned rapid-transit route between the Waterford-Troy area and downtown Albany. Both projects will start this year.
The board also voted to pay $925,000 for land on Industrial Park Road across the street from CDTA's headquarters in Watervliet Avenue in Albany. The building on the site now will be demolished and replaced with a parking lot.
“We have various expansions going on … we’re literally outgrowing our space," Basile said. “The immediate need is parking. It’s been a long discussion, over a couple of years.”