ADVERTISEMENT

It must be that the state Department of Transportation has a mental disconnect when it comes to Western New York. Why else would the DOT have shorted the region hundreds of millions of dollars that should have gone for road and bridge rehabilitation work?

A DOT funding error, never corrected, cost Western New York $167 million in 2008 and part of 2009. And now $94 million allocated for projects in 2012 has not been spent.

The latter amount was more than half the $166 million promised for the region last year.

The state’s fiscal year ends March 31, which is the deadline for the state to advertise for bids if contracts for the projects using 2012 funds are to be awarded. That deadline demands immediate action by the DOT.

Buffalo Democratic State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy is trying to get answers. At a state hearing recently, he asked Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald why the $94 million hasn’t been spent. Her answers were a marvel of evasion and denial.

If the DOT continues to do what it’s done to Western New York over the past several years, it will obfuscate and then kick the can farther down the road.

The organization Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Revenue (FAIR) and a dogged Kennedy have for years lobbied the DOT to correct the 2008-2009 funding error that shorted Western New York $167 million, most of which was federal money delivered through the state to the DOT’s Region 5, consisting of Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties.

Although her predecessor acknowledged the agency made an error in the way transportation dollars flowed to the different regions, McDonald has consistently given opaque answers when it comes to making up the shortfall.

And now, there is the matter of yet another pot of funding that should have been distributed last year. That $166 million is funded by the DOT’s capital account and the NYWorks program, an effort touted by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Western New York generally should receive about 10 percent of the state’s overall allocation for road and bridge funding. Last year, the $166 million represented 10.3 percent of the statewide allocation. There was hope that, if maintained over the next several years, the slightly higher percentage would eventually start filling in the gap from the 2008-09 shortfall.

The higher allocation appeared to be a step in the right direction, but now actual spending is set to take a huge step backward. After months of inaction, it appears that 2012 will have been another year in which highway funding has gone missing. That money would have created jobs for thousands of Western New Yorkers, and shored up some of our aging infrastructure.

If the $94 million isn’t put to work, projects that should have gone out to bid last year will end up getting put onto the program for the next fiscal year. And if the DOT’s past actions are any indication, the money set aside for the 2012 fiscal year projects will be rolled into next year but counted against any increase that the region might be eligible to receive. It’s a legitimate concern for lawmakers and industry groups.

Western New York has at least two strikes against it in dealing with the Albany bureaucracy: It’s a long way from Cuomo’s home in Westchester County and, after backing Carl Paladino for governor in 2010, it has too many Republicans. In addition, the state is facing a multibillion-dollar bill to replace the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River. But that project cannot be allowed to suck up dollars allocated to this area.

Delays, project downgrades and cancellations have been the case year after year. It’s time to end the unfair allocation of state transportation dollars.

McDonald promised to try to earmark the $94 million by the March 31 deadline. Trying is not enough; she needs to get it done.