Congressmember John Katko and other members of a bi-partisan coalition in the house appear to be making progress on an infrastructure plan. Transportation officials in Central New York welcome the additional attention…and investment.
When the federal highway system was built more than 50 years ago, it was a top national priority. Since then, though, it’s probably safe to say maintenance hasn’t seen that same level of attention.
"We do a lot with the little that we have in terms of funding, and we could certainly used more."
Director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council James D’Agostino says federal investment has been sporadic depending on who’s in the White House and in Congress.
"It hasn't been a continuous, consistent stream of funding over that time period. That's what our infrastructure needs. There is some continuous stream of funding from the highway trust fund, but it's grossly inadequate for the level of need."
Because, he says, no politician wants to be the one pushing to raise the gas tax, which is the fund’s primary funding mechanism. Couple that with more fuel-efficient vehicles, and D’Agostino says the fund regularly falls short of the nation’s transportation needs. Thankfully, he says, Congress has found other ways to prop it up.
"To bridge that gap, Congress has continually had to shift monies over from the general fund. I'm not complaining about that. We've been able to do what needs to be done. The transportation system in New York is very safe and in pretty darn good shape, especially if you travel around."
Still, he says there’s not enough money to keep the system as well maintained as they’d like. D’Agostino likens it to maintaining a house.
"If you're a homeowner, you know this: If you don't take care of things on an ongoing basis, when they need attention and can't be ignored anymore, the cost is usually greater. So if you don't put regular dollars into keeping something going along, eventually it doesn't go along anymore, and cost of rehab is that much more."
He says that’s key when it comes to attracting businesses who might rely on a maintained, efficient, and reliable transportation system. The bi-partisan problem solvers caucus co-chaired by Congressmember Katko has launched an infrastructure working group to come up with a set of policies to serve as a foundation to address the dire need to rebuild the nation’s infrastructure. It goes beyond highways. There are also ports, waterways, water and wastewater infrastructure, and broadband/communications.