Proposal Would Decrease Local Allocation by $426 Million
Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) questioned a proposal by the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to alter the formula used to determine the allocation of transportation funds within the state. Under the new plan Western New York’s funding would decrease by $426 million through 2015.
“The Western New York economy can’t afford to take a four hundred million dollar hit,” said Congressman Higgins, a member of the House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “This funding was promised to our community and that’s where it belongs.”
Under the DOT proposal, total transportation funding to Region 5 through 2015 would be reduced from $1.351 billion to $925 million, including a reduction in federal aid from $743 million to $570 million. Region 5 covers over 4,100 square miles and includes Erie, Chautauqua, Niagara and Cattaraugus counties. Higgins learned of the plan following a meeting of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Western New York area.
“Shortchanging Western New York’s needs to the benefit of other parts of the state is simply unacceptable,” added Higgins.
Higgins noted that cuts of this nature could result in the loss of over 17,000 jobs, according to a Federal Highway Administration formula that calculates the creation of 42,000 jobs for every billion dollars spent on work.
The Congressman raised his concerns in the following letter to State Transportation Commissioner Astrid Glynn:
October 23, 2008
Hon. Astrid Glynn
Commissioner of Transportation
50 Wolf Road
Albany, NY 12205
Re: DOT's proposed $426 million cut for WNY.
Dear Commissioner Glynn:
I am gravely concerned about NYSDOT's proposed new funding distribution formulae which would reduce funding for Western New York through 2015 from $1.351 billion to $925 million, including a reduction in federal aid from $743 million to $570 million. This cut would have a devastating impact on the local economy and would substantially delay a number of initiatives which are essential to our region's economic recovery.
1) Set Aside for "Projects of Statewide Significance". Your agency proposes to set aside various percentages of Western New York's allotments from various transportation programs to contribute to a statewide fund for Projects of Statewide Significance (SWS). While it is true that Western New York contains some SWS-eligible initiatives (Peace Bridge and Rt. 219), by my estimation, even if there are no further delays in the Rt. 219 project or the Peace Bridge, our region would still not break even in terms of receiving the highway aid it would have received under the existing distribution framework.
2) Fifteen Percent Reduction to account for the difference between "authorized" and "appropriated" funding levels. We are all aware that funding levels in the annual appropriations bill typically fall short of the levels called for in the six-year highway bill. I understand that your agency has proposed to reduce anticipated funding levels by 15% for out-year planning purposes to reflect this difference. On a policy level, this is troubling because the funding levels in the Highway Bill are set by the Congress-if we wanted you to plan for less in the out years, we would have authorized lower levels in the bill. By planning for less in the out years of your program you are defying the plainly stated intent of Congress. On a practical level, this is troubling because it makes good sense to have more projects ready to go than you can afford-when a certain number of projects are delayed for environmental reasons, this allows work to proceed on other worthy initiatives. Specifically, because our region has done a good job of budgeting this way, we have been able to see a healthy level of construction proceed in recent years, and this proposed change would result in an unacceptable construction slowdown in Western New York
3) Bridges over Highways. Within some of the new formulae, you propose shifts from highway funding to bridge funding. Because the infrastructure in New York City and its immediate vicinity contains a higher percentage of bridges, this is a transparent and unacceptable attempt to shift funding out of upstate and to the City. New York City has pressing infrastructure needs which much be addressed-but I cannot support shifting funds which had been destined for upstate to the City.
In order to more fully understand the impact of these proposed changes, I request the following:
1) A listing of the currently planned SWS projects around the state, with their dollar amounts, planned construction years and locations.
2) Your estimation of how much each of the DOT regions would receive under the proposed new formulae and how much they would receive under the existing formulae, for each of the major highway funding programs for each year through 2015.
I make these information requests pursuant to State and Federal freedom of information laws.
Additionally and more importantly, I respectfully request that you abandon this disconcerting new policy initiative and revert to the existing formulae for the distribution of highway funds within the State. Thank you very much.
Member of Congress