There Are 221 Nassau & 186 Suffolk Bridges, Plus Thousands of Miles of Highways In Need of Repairs, Upgrades & Safety Improvements on Long Island
Washington, DC - July 21, 2014 - U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched a campaign for Congressional action to avoid the fast-approaching “highway trust fund cliff” in August, when federal funding will slow down or be entirely cut off for the over 400 federal-aid eligible bridges that are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete and in need of repairs, and for dozens of pending highway repair projects on Long Island. Schumer said that the LIE overpass in Old Westbury is one of many bridges that are highly trafficked, outdated and in need of repair and safety upgrades that will require federal funding to be completed. Schumer pushed for a solution to replenish the Highway Trust Fund, which provides over $1.6 billion per year to New York State for highway and mass transit construction projects and is set to run low on funding in less than a month. If no agreement is reached in the Senate to continue funding the Highway Trust Fund, New York State could potentially be forced to delay construction projects that are currently underway or choose to foot the bill with local tax dollars. While Schumer would prefer a long-term funding solution, he urged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the Senate to ensure that the trust fund does not lose its funding and force New York State to restrict plans for needed bridge and road upgrades, delay existing projects and potentially hurt construction jobs. Schumer said that a failure to re-authorize the Highway Trust Fund and provide it with additional funding would significantly hurt the economy and could impact the long-term safety of our infrastructure.
Schumer revealed a list of structurally deficient and functionally obsolete Long Island bridges in need of federal upgrades, as well as ongoing and pending construction projects that could be delayed or slowed without action first in the Senate, and then an agreement in a conference committee.
“The Highway Trust Fund is too important to Long Island’s economy, and to our safety, to let it become insolvent,” said Schumer. “Congress should step up and reach a bi-partisan agreement that continues to provide the funding New York and the country needs to carry out local highway and mass transit construction projects, as well as plan for future bridge and road upgrades and repairs. New York should not have to decide between delaying these construction projects and the corresponding jobs, and footing the bill for them without any guarantee they will be reimbursed. Any cut-back in funding could be a dagger to the heart of our economy and to the integrity of our bridges, roads and highways, and I will fight hard to make sure that the Senate acts this week to avoid this at all costs.”
The Highway Trust Fund is a significant source of federal money that is allocated to states to help fund highway and mass transit construction projects. As long as the fund stays above a certain level, states like New York receive federal funding in the form of a reimbursement for work already undertaken. There is a looming shortfall, however, that could limit these federal reimbursements and eventually stop them altogether.
According to the federal Department of Transportation (DOT), the amount of money allocated for highway spending within the federal Highway Trust Fund will fall below $4 billion at the beginning of next month, which is the point at which the DOT will begin scaling back payments to New York State and other states for highway construction projects. Schumer explained that, if no agreement is reached to continue funding the Highway Trust Fund in the Senate, New York State could be forced to put construction projects that are already underway on hold, and delay some that are in the planning stages. In addition, according to the White House, if Congress does not act, new federal disbursements to states from the Highway Trust Fund will be halted after September 30th.
Schumer noted that the House of Representatives recently enacted a short-term fix for the Highway Trust Fund, which will keep the fund solvent until May of 2015. While Schumer remains committed to working to find a long-term solution this year, he is urging his colleagues in both the Senate and the House to come together and pass a short-term patch before August to keep the trust fund solvent.
According to the DOT, if the Highway Trust Fund is not properly funded, it could mean the delay of about 112,000 roadway projects and 6,000 transit projects nationwide. In the case of New York, which receives over $1.6 billion annually from the Highway Trust Fund, there are approximately 409 highway projects currently underway in Upstate New York and Long Island with the help of the Highway Trust Fund that could be delayed or even abandoned if Congress does not reach an agreement.
On Long Island, there are 42 highway projects under construction worth over $318 million.
Overall, there are 8 bridges in Nassau County that are structurally deficient and eligible for federal funding. There are 8 bridges in Suffolk County that are structurally deficient and eligible for federal funding. Also, there are 213 bridges in Nassau County that are functionally obsolete and eligible for federal funding. There are 178 functionally obsolete bridges in Suffolk County and eligible for federal funding. Structurally deficient bridges are those that include a significant defect in their structure, and usually have speed and weight limits on them to ensure safety until they can be upgraded. Functionally obsolete bridges have a design that is no longer appropriate for the bridge’s modern-day uses, and are usually lacking a key safety feature like a safety shoulder or are unable to accommodate new volume, traffic or weight because of its design. Schumer noted that while neither designation necessarily implies a lack of safety, these designations are red flags and demonstrate a need for safety and design upgrades.
Schumer noted that construction delays, particularly during summer construction season, could have a significant impact on jobs throughout the state. According to the Center for American Progress, if necessary funding is not authorized for the Highway Trust Fund in FY2015, New York could lose over 12,400 jobs, including many good-paying construction jobs. In addition, Schumer noted that New York State has nearly 7,000 bridges that are either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient and, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 60% of New York’s roads are in mediocre or poor condition, so any interruption in funding is also a safety concern.
Schumer noted that some of these projects cross county and regional lines. The Highway Trust Fund also provides funding to states to expand and improve their public transit systems, and that account is expected to drop below $1 billion by the end of October, the point at which DOT will need to begin scaling back payments to New York State. Schumer said that even though funding for mass transit will take longer to reach the threshold where funds will stop being available for New York State, it is imperative that Congress reach an agreement to resolve the Highway Trust Fund shortfall so that there is no doubt in October around whether various mass transit construction projects can continue without interruption.