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Ravitch

Ravitch

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Published by Rick Karlin

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Published by: Rick Karlin on Nov 18, 2010
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11/18/2010

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Report of the Lieutenant Governor onNew York State’s Transportation Infrastructure
 New York State currently lacks the revenues necessary to maintain its transportationsystem in a state of good repair, and the State has no credible strategy for meeting futureneeds. Simply maintaining the State’s existing physical assets will take billions of dollarsannually. Expansion of the transportation network to facilitate economic growth, meet population increases, and improve quality of life will take billions more. But the resourcesrequired to cover these needs are in short supply. In part, the lack of adequate funds is dueto the current recession, declining State revenues, and federal funding uncertainty. But italso reflects the fact that New York has long failed to secure enough revenues to meet boththe operating expenses and the capital requirements of its transportation system.Long term bonds are the proper financing mechanism for capital investment because theyallow for the amortization of such investment over the years of the lives of the people whowill benefit from the projects. Borrowing for operating expenses, however, is universallyrecognized to be permissible only in emergencies or for transitional purposes. Borrowingfor operating expenses can be disastrous because it constricts borrowing capacity bydriving up debt service costs. New York’s recurring revenues to support its transportation-related debt are not increasing at anywhere near the rate at which the debt itself isincreasing. As a result, the State confronts a crippling debt service crisis.Right now, neither the MTA nor DOT has adequate resources to cover both its operatingexpenses and the level of new borrowing demanded by its proposed capital program. NewYork, therefore, faces a choice: significantly higher taxes, fees, fares, and tolls or adrastically diminished transportation program that could jeopardize safety and economicwell-being. This unpleasant choice is not unique to the field of transportationinfrastructure. It also confronts the State in the areas of energy, drinking water, and wasteand sewer water treatment systems. But the field of transportation powerfully illustratesthe scope and gravity of the challenge.
 
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Background
The New York transportation system is a vast network of highways, roads, rail lines, publictransit systems, pedestrian and bike facilities, airports, seaports, and waterways. Includedin this network are more than 113,000 miles of roads and 17,400 highway bridges, over which more than 141 billion vehicle miles are driven annually. Within the State, more than130 different public transit operators serve seven million passengers a day. There are also3,500 miles of railroads throughout New York, moving more than 73 million tons of freightannually. Each year, more than 150 million tons of freight pass through the State’s various ports. Some of this system is privately owned and operated: intercity buses, freight rail,and airlines. But much of it, including roads, bridges, and public transit systems, is publicly owned and maintained.
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 The ongoing capital needs of this system are enormous. The Metropolitan TransportationAuthority (“MTA”) estimates that $120 to $140 billion will be necessary over the next 20years just to meet the repair and replacement needs of the system.
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The New York StateDepartment of Transportation (“DOT”) estimates that more than $175 billion will benecessary statewide between 2010 and 2030 for the non-MTA New York transportationsystem.
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In addition to these enormous amounts are the many billions more needed for transformational projects with the potential to drive future demographic and economicgrowth, such as a statewide high-speed rail system, a Metro-North connection to PennStation, and the upgrades and expansions desperately needed at New York City’s seaportsand airports.Since the 1980s, capital investments in New York’s transportation system have beenorganized and implemented pursuant to multi-year DOT and MTA capital plans. While the parameters of each plan have differed somewhat, the plans generally provide a blueprint for 
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 The State owns 15,000 miles of the road and highway network. Counties own 20,000 miles, and nearly77,000 miles are owned by cities, towns and villages. The State owns 7,600 bridges, with the remainder owned by local governments and independent public authorities.
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From the MTA Twenty Year Capital Needs Assessment, 2009,www.mta.info/mta/pdf/CP/ NeedsAssessment.pdf.
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From the New York State Department of Transportation’s 20-Year Needs Assessment, 2007,https://www.nysdot.gov/portal/page/portal/programs/20yearneedsassessment.
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