Award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
New York is investing $1.2 billion in new, accelerated road and bridge projects, just days after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the funding bill for his "New York Works" infrastructure bank.
The funding -- almost ten percent of the entire $15 billion projected spending on infrastructure -- came even before appointees to a 15-member committee to administer the fund were named.
The funding will accelerate road and bridge projects across the state, with the largest single payment -- nearly half a billion dollars -- going to replace the Kosciuszko Bridge between Brooklyn and Queens in New York City. But there are projects everywhere, from the Hempstead Turnpike in Long Island to the Latta Brook Road in Chemung County to Rt 52 over the Callicoon Creek in Delaware County to Route 9N in Port Henry, in the North Country.
The $1.2 billion in accelerated funding comes on top of $1.6 billion in previously planned spending on roads and bridges. It does not include the more than $5 billion replacement of the Tappan Zee Bridge, a project which has drawn fire for its lack of mass transit.
In a measure of how Governor Cuomo views the political potency of building new infrastructure, word of the investments came in a series of ten carefully-designed press releases, each targeted to a different media market with quotes praising the governor from local legislators.
The infrastructure bank has won support from business and labor leaders, who see a significant new infusion of funds into construction as a shot in the arm for the economy, particularly upstate.
And while many details of the fund are as yet unreleased, some infrastructure bank experts shrugged off the disbursement of funds before its governing structure has even been named.
"You can't just jump to where we should be," said New York University professor Michael Likosky, who has advised governments on setting of infrastructure banks. "That's a lot of the reason why these things have failed up to now."
Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association, was also nonplussed. "These were projects that had to happen," Yaro said, noting that New York has slowly defunded road projects over the years, leaving many roads and bridges in critical condition.
The grand idea of the NY Works fund is that it will coordinate capital spending among 45 agencies and authorities, including the state Department of Transportation, the New York MTA, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Thruway Authority, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and others. The governing body will prioritize and coordinate state projects -- the lack of which can tangle with interest costs, construction materials, and labor availability.
The $1.2 billion in new spending consists of $247 million in state capital funds and $917 million in new federal funds. When it's fully constituted, the fund is supposed to draw in private capital -- but, unlike Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, Governor Cuomo hasn't said which private sector investors have indicated they will invest in the fund.
This tranche of funding includes $212 million for bridge decking and structural replacement on 115 bridges, $250 million for 2,000 miles of pavement, and $687 million for "transportation projects of regional or statement significance throughout the state that had been delayed due to resource constraints," according to the press releases.
The Governor's office promises a live web link to on going New York Works projects, but that list is not yet live.
Here are the ten press releases (with lists of projects)