Transportation commissioner on how to make the case for infrastructure

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Joan McDonald. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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At a forum on congestion pricing this Friday, state transportation commissioner Joan McDonald talked about how to get more people to pay attention to the crucial, decidedly unglamorous issue of infrastructure.

“I think we saw just last week with the explosion on Park Avenue and 116th Street, our infrastructure is old,” she said, to an audience at Baruch College. “So our mission is to make the case that it's not just a transportation issue; it is a sustainability issue and it is an economic development issue.”

McDonald said that 1992, in this context, "was a great year: ISTEA (the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991) had recently passed; the federal Highway Trust Fund was flush; New York State had passed its dedicated fund.”

Between then and now, she said, “things changed. The Highway Trust Fund ran out of cash, and less funding is forthcoming from Congress for transportation infrastructure."

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Meanwhile, she said maintenance on the state's roads, bridges and tunnels "have been getting deferred.

"What we're doing right now [is] we're stopping the deterioration ... and using in many instances low-cost mechanisms,” she said.

McDonald said her agency is developing a five-year capital plan to figure out how to pay for longer-term investments and repairs.

“We all know that the need is great, we all know that funding is going to be a lively item of discussion,” she said. “So I think one of the important things that's being done in the transportation conversation is linking it to economic development. How does this disinvestment in roads and bridges contribute to congestion, what is it doing to businesses in the state.”