The Buffalo region has received less than half of the money it was promised for road construction this fiscal year, and local state lawmakers want to know why.
The state’s transportation chief, meanwhile, said she’d give her “best efforts” to deliver the area its fair share of funding, but gave no guarantees.
The issue came to light Thursday in Albany during a joint legislative budget hearing with state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald.
While the hearing focused on funding for 2013-14, State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy pointed out that this fiscal year’s transportation budget designated $166 million for Western New York.
But so far, Kennedy said, only $72 million of that money has been spent in the region.
“We have a little more than $90 million that we’re short from what’s been promised up to this point,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy, D-Buffalo, previously noted that other regions have received the full amount they were promised, or in some cases more.
McDonald did not dispute those figures for Western New York, and didn’t offer an explanation as to why the funding has been so slow in arriving.
Instead, McDonald said it’s the agency’s intent to “use all our best efforts” to bid out those capital projects that the DOT committed to do this fiscal year, which ends March 31.
“So you’re expecting, in the course of the next two months or so, we’re going to be looking at $90 million or so?” Kennedy asked her.
“I don’t have the specifics in front of me,” McDonald said, “but we are using every effort to get the remaining projects that need to be let in [the Buffalo region] and across the state obligated so that we can start the construction season and put people to work.”
“That would be very welcome news to the folks in Western New York,” Kennedy said.
Alan Pero, president of Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Revenue – a coalition of Western New York laborers, consultants and contractors involved in the construction industry – testified at Thursday’s hearing and called 2012 the “lost construction season” for the Buffalo region.
It was the result of “the perfect storm of screw-ups” by the DOT related to design, bidding and letting of projects, which led to high unemployment across the region’s construction industry during the 2012 season, Pero said.
He asked that the DOT fix the “systemic problem” within the department so these issues don’t happen again.
In another matter, the commissioner said the DOT has begun a “plausibility review” to consider alternatives to the Skyway.
“I expect to receive that in the near future,” McDonald said of the Skyway report. “The process is under way right now.”
Late last year, she told Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a longtime advocate for removing the Skyway, that she had directed staff to conduct a review of alternatives to the towering concrete connector between Buffalo’s downtown and the outer harbor.
When asked by Kennedy for an update on Thursday, McDonald said the review is being done from the “macro perspective” on how alternatives to the Skyway would impact the City of Buffalo.
McDonald did not put a timetable on the study, but said when it’s complete, the DOT will sit down with Higgins and Kennedy to explain the results.
“Would you be willing to come up and give us the findings when they’re completed?” Kennedy said.
“I’d be happy to,” McDonald said.