U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling for a new measure that will give states the authority to use more federal funds on local bridge improvement projects.
New York is home to more than 17,000 highway bridges, about 44 percent of them owned by the State Department of Transportation. Under current law, federal road and bridge funding can only be used on federal highways and bridges. Federal policy limits the amount of federal transportation funds states can use to repair those bridges.
Gillibrand says her amendment proposal to the transportation re-authorization bill would allow states greater flexibility to invest in bridge improvement and repair projects, making local bridge projects eligible for federal funding through the National Highway Performance Program. "That would allow the State of New York to prioritize the worst bridges, the bridges that need the most help, regardless of whether they are located on the national highway system or on a local county highway. This amendment would make sure our bridges can be fixed, and made safe for travelers. And it would finally support the pressing infrastructure needs of local government. Our counties, municipalities, towns and villages."
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says the county owns 76 bridges, including the Delaware Avenue bridge than connects Albany with Bethlehem and Delmar. "When they finished fixing that bridge, the state turned it over to us. We just got done fixing two bridges out in Guilderland, one by the rifle range, and we're working on another one, and I think you know the rail trail, there's like three bridges we have to fix to fully get the rail trail completely opened up for safety purposes. So these are things we have to deal with. I applaud Senator Gillibrand for doing this, 'cos we could use more federal funds."
More than a third of New York’s bridges are graded as either “functionally obsolete,” meaning they cannot handle current traffic demand, or “structurally deficient,” meaning they require significant maintenance to remain in service and will eventually require a total rehabilitation.
Again, Senator Gillibrand: "It doesn't cost any money. Because all this bill does is make available funds that are restricted for federal highways. So right now there is a very significant pot of money, but it is restricted to federal highways, and so you just say, state and local governments can prioritize whatever highways or bridges they want to spend the money on regardless of the federal highways or bridges. It makes a huge difference."
Gillibrand adds each individual county executive or administrator likely already has a list of what bridges are in most need of repair, and she says some of the money could even go toward the new Tappan Zee Bridge, currently under construction.