By Alan Pero
There is a systemic problem within the New York State Department of Transportation that has stopped critical infrastructure projects from being completed and resulted in record high unemployment – exceeding 20 percent – among construction workers in Western New York.
The problem began in 2008 when our region saw its historic funding level of 10.3 percent of the DOT budget suddenly reduced to 4 percent. Even though Region 5 contains, within its five-county area, 10 to 12 percent of all state road miles, bridges and registered motor vehicles, no one in the DOT could explain the reduction. To make matters worse, this spending formula was applied to the federal stimulus act. These two actions cost our region more than $168 million of infrastructure funding.
It took more than three years for the DOT to admit that it had committed a “math error” in 2008. FAIR, the organization that I lead, advocating for road and bridge infrastructure projects, has been lobbying hard to restore these funds. At the conclusion of the 2012-13 budget process, we were assured that Region 5 would receive its historical 10.3 percent funding level and “restoration” funds to make up for the “math error.”
By last June, it was apparent that scheduled projects in Region 5 were not under way. In a meeting with the governor’s top transportation adviser and staff from the DOT and the Budget and Finance Department, FAIR’s worst fears were confirmed. What DOT officials called “a perfect storm of screw ups” would essentially cause the entire road and bridge construction season in Region 5 to be lost. Apparently every step in the process of designing, bidding and awarding bids had been bungled and had to be recalled and redone, resulting in so many delays that only a tiny portion of jobs would occur in 2012.
To add insult to injury, FAIR’s analysis of DOT spending throughout the state showed that this “perfect storm of screw ups” happened only in our region.
I recently traveled to Albany again to testify before the Senate Transportation Committee. In addition to asking the Senate to restore our region’s funding and compensate for the “math error,” I also asked our legislators to demand that the DOT explain how this situation occurred and to design a remediation plan to make sure that such a “perfect storm” never occurs again.
Four members of Western New York’s Senate delegation serve on the Transportation Committee. If there ever was a time to address regional inequity, now is the time and this is the issue.
Alan Pero is the Northeast regional director of the International Union of Operating Engineers, international supervisor Local 17 and president of Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Revenue, a coalition of labor, engineering firms, contractors, consultants and suppliers advocating for road and bridge infrastructure projects in Western New York.