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Pattern Report Highlights Infrastructure Issues

WAMC, Allison Dunne

“Crumbling or tumbling” — that was the subject of a Hudson Valley non-profit’s conference today on infrastructure issues, a week after it released a report on the topic as President Obama visited Westchester County to talk about the need for infrastructure investment.

The report, entitled "Infrastructure Planning and Investment: A Widening Gap," is from Newburgh-based Hudson Valley Pattern for Progress. The report’s cover depicts a road with lots of cracks, mended by duct tape. And it turns out that many municipalities may not have infrastructure fixes beyond duct tape on their agendas. March Gallagher is chief strategy officer for Pattern and the report’s principal author.

“I think the most surprising finding in our report is that substantial numbers of municipalities are not preparing capital improvement plans, so they’re not looking at their capital expenditures for infrastructure and the needs on a five-year lookout, which means it’s very, very hard to prepare for maintaining your assets,” says Gallagher.

The report addresses widespread infrastructure concerns in a nine-county region served by the policy organization, from the lower Hudson Valley to Columbia and Greene Counties. The report underscores increasing concerns over the state of bridges, roads, water and sewer systems. Pattern’s President and CEO Jonathan Drapkin says the duct-tape fix can wind up being more costly down the road, yet the expenditure necessary for a longer-term solution has cash-strapped municipalities procrastinating.

“The day-to-day thing, which is what we are trying to talk about, which is the sewer system where the pipes haven’t been fixed in 100 years, those are where you really could say, well, can we get to 103 years? Or the jail that hasn’t been repaired in 100 years, can we get to 105 years with that? Those are the things where by failing to make the investment today, the cost becomes so much more later.” 

Again, here’s Gallagher.

“Another surprising finding, Allison, was that we are doing a good job at hazard mitigation planning. I think because of Irene and Lee and now Sandy, many municipalities, 76 percent of municipalities in the Hudson Valley, do have a hazard mitigation plan in place of some type, and that’s a great thing.”

Yet some of this has to do with funding, as some municipalities do have funding available for hazard mitigation.

“I think funding is available to do this kind of planning. New York Rising is the perfect example, and maybe we need to look at restructuring, and we bring this up at the end of our report, some of our funding streams to emphasize and to incentivize capital improvement planning so that people are not just building the asset but actually maintaining it over time.”

Democratic Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney was the keynote speaker. He says he’s pushing hard at the federal level for infrastructure investment.

“We are way behind our foreign competitors. And right now, the Tea Party Congress is getting ready to kick the can down the road on a short-term extension of the federal Highway Trust Fund, which is nuts. We need to step up to the plate and invest in our roads, our bridges, our water and wastewater systems, our power grids, our broadband systems. These are the things that will create good jobs and grow our economy.”

The report was in the works long before President Obama visited Westchester County last week to push a $302 billion transportation plan and highlight the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge project as a positive example of an expedited review and permitting process, and a large federal loan at work. Both Maloney and Drapkin attended Obama’s speech in Tarrytown. Here’s Drapkin.

“No, we had no idea the president would be here at the time we were releasing the report, and we were just moving along on parallel paths and we were fortunate to have the president of the United States there highlighting the issue of infrastructure as we were releasing our report.”

Gallagher says there was a high response rate to Pattern’s infrastructure survey.

“We had 126 out of a possible 238, so we had over a 52 percent response rate. And I think that speaks volumes ti how important infrastructure is and how difficult it is to finance and maintain infrastructure in light of the tax cap.”

She says that’s a very good response rate considering about 10 percent is the norm. The response rate by county varied from a high in Ulster County of 80 percent to a low in Rockland County of 29 percent.

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