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CNY Transportation Officials Encouraged by Progress on Infrastructure Plan

file photo

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. 

An aerial photo of I-81 in Nov. 1966 looking south, with construction of the ramps to I-690. This is a similar vantage point to the above photo.

"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.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at