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Local roads, bridges need more funding through NY Works

— I recently joined several local highway officials in Albany to advocate for an increase in state aid for local roads and bridges. With budget negotiations underway, we cannot short change our localities and provide them with funding that is inadequate to keep roads and bridges passable.

New York has a state and local highway system that annually handles more than 130 billion vehicle miles. It is a system that encompasses more than 113,000 highway miles and more than 17,400 bridges. Amazingly, local governments are responsible for nearly 87 percent of the roads and for about one-half of the bridges.

In order to help localities maintain roads, each year the state provides them with funding under the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program, also known as CHIPs. This year, the Governor is proposing to provide $363.1 million in CHIPs funding. This is the same level that CHIPs has been funded at since 2008. Unfortunately, this amount is not sufficient to allow localities to maintain or improve their part of our highway system. With no increases, obviously, CHIPs funding is not keeping pace with inflation or increased costs, as the price of fuel, asphalt and materials has seen triple digit increases during the past decade.

Without adequate maintenance and continued investment in our infrastructure, we risk losing the assets that we have. That very thing happened in 2009 when New York and Vermont were forced to shut down the Crown Point Bridge. The bridge was beyond rehabilitation and was closed for nearly two years. It cost taxpayers $70 million to replace. Area businesses experienced disruption and medical service was put at risk with its sudden closure. Resulting detours created headaches for all residents who depended on the bridge.

The State Comptroller recently released a report entitled "Cracks in the Foundation," which concluded that 32 percent of our bridges in NY and 40 percent of our road pavements are rated fair or poor and getting worse. In the same report, the Comptroller estimates that there will be $89 billion in unmet infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, with the majority of this shortfall on the already deteriorating local transportation system.

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