Infrastructure bill set to fuel state construction

ALBANY — New York has 1,702 bridges and 7,292 miles of roads rated in poor condition.

Of the public transit vehicles in use in the state, 11% have been determined to be past their useful life.

And the state is ill-equipped now to handle what is expected to be a surge in demand for electric vehicle charging stations as more consumers opt to buy battery-powered cars and trucks.

New York is now poised to reap billions of dollars to address those needs and others from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden.

Airports, lead pipes

Officials say it will send nearly $3 billion to New York over the next five years to replace lead pipes and support other clean water projects, including mitigating pollution involving toxic PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) chemicals, used in some manufacturing processes and firefighting foam.

The airports in the state will also receive a massive infusion of federal dollars over the next five years. The legislation offers them $685 million to finance a variety of improvements and updates. All airports will share in the funding.

The $13 billion to be channeled to New York for roads and bridges could potentially have a far-reaching impact on the state, though it will take time for state and regional officials to determine which projects should be the priorities, Michael Elmendorf, president and CEO of the Associated General Contractors of New York State, told CNHI.

Thousands of jobs

The spending on those projects will likely produce “tens and tens of thousands of jobs” in New York, Elmendorf said.

“This level of funding is clearly historic,” he said. “In the case of the airports, we know who is getting what. In the case of New York State DOT (Department of Transportation) this funding will give them the certainty they need to develop a multi-year plan with the Legislature and the governor in the next few months. We hope the result is going to be that it allows them to shift out of preservation mode — where they try to prevent things from getting worse than they are — to real reconstruction.”

After New York experienced 31 extreme weather events from 2010 to 2020, the legislation is expected to fund projects that help existing and new infrastructure to withstand flooding and punishing winds. It also will send $34 million to the state over five years to mitigate forest fires and other natural disasters.

A veteran of the New York construction scene, Robert Harlem, president of Oneonta Block in Oneonta and Duke Concrete Products in Queensbury, said he hopes the upstate region gets its fair share of projects funded by the federal jackpot.

“I have not heard of any packages coming our way yet, but if they do we are certainly geared up,” Harlem said. “We just put in a brand new ready-mix plant with all the bells and whistles on the South Side of Oneonta. We have carbon-sequestered concrete and we have geothermal heating. So we will be ready when they come through.”

Preservation mode

In Western New York, Gary Hill of Union Concrete and Construction, said he hopes the funding will address infrastructure needs in small cities such as Lockport and Niagara Falls in a way that can “bring neighborhoods together” and address local transportation needs.

“The state has been in preservation mode for about a decade now, and what that means is they just focus on maintaining the system — resurfacing roads, replacing signs, signals, handicap ramps, striping, things of that nature.” Hill said. “That’s because funding has been somewhat slim. It was a good decision then, and no one is knocking it. But now that we have an increase we need to address the needs of locals and really focus on congestion relief and projects that are going to help with economic development.”

Under the infrastructure legislation, New York is expected to receive $1.9 billion for bridge projects and $11.6 for highway projects.

Wear and tear

Federal and state transportation officials will likely have major influence as to which projects get the funding, said Rick Geddes, a professor and founding director of Cornell University’s Program in Infrastructure Policy.

Many of New York’s highways, Geddes said, are showing wear and tear.

“We have tough winters,” he said. “We have snow and ice and it wears out.” But rather than just repaving the roads, Geddes said, the level of funding will create opportunities to reimagine the configuration of some roadways.

“Finally, there is national bipartisan attention focused on civil infrastructure,” Geddes said in an interview. “Now we have a bill, and I think it provides a framework for rethinking a lot of these rights of way and the placement of highways. Maybe they were sensible at the time, but that time was a long time ago.”

Broadband access

Two downstate projects are expected to be among the most expensive in New York: the completion of the Gateway Tunnel project under the Hudson River and the East Side Access Project, both aimed at reducing congestion, he noted.

Anticipating rising demand for electric vehicles, the federal measure channels $175 million over five years to support the expansion of charging networks in the state.

With an estimated 4% of New Yorkers living in communities where there is no broadband infrastructure, New York is expected to get at least $100 million to expand access to internet service. In addition, the legislation will fund subsidies for millions of low-income New Yorkers to defray their costs for broadband subscriptions.

Another major focus is improving public transportation. According to federal officials, New Yorkers who take public transportation regularly often have lengthy commutes. The legislation provides New York with nearly $10 billion to improve public transportation.


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