Norris Calls For $500 Million For CHIPS, Long Term Plan To Improve Roads, Bridges & Sewers

A Column from Assemblyman Mike Norris (R,I,C,Ref-Lockport)

As a member of the Assembly Committee on Transportation as well as the Committee on Ways and Means, which oversees the state’s budget process, I am particularly concerned that enough emphasis is not being placed on improving infrastructure in our state, particularly in upstate and Western New York. Safe infrastructure is the very foundation of our communities and economy. That’s why I am calling on the governor and other legislative leaders to include the recommendations of a task force I was proud to participate in this past fall.

The Assembly Minority Task Force on Critical Infrastructure and Transportation held public hearings across our state last fall and brought together local highway superintendents, transportation experts, law enforcement and others to discuss the unique needs of regions throughout our state, including right here in Western New York. What we learned was no surprise: the state lacks a long term vision and commitment to restoring, rebuilding and improving the infrastructure needs of New York as a whole. We have seen this lack of commitment for too long in Western New York, and since taking office I have fought very hard to increase funding for programs like the Consolidated Local Road and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) and the Extreme Winter Recovery (EWR) program.

But the increases we have seen are not enough, and it is discouraging that the governor continues to propose budgets that only maintain or even cut funding for these critical upstate programs while devoting billions to rename bridges, airports and train stations downstate.

Our plan is substantial in many ways. First of all, we are proposing to increase funding for CHIPS by $100 million annually for at least the next five years. Then we want to create a similar program to help local governments improve the quality and condition of our sewers and culverts. We want to expand programs like PAVE-NY, EWR, BRIDGE-NY and the Clean Water Investment Act. Further, we also want the state Department of Transportation to create and maintain a report on the condition of our roads and to develop a 10-year capital improvement plan.

Though I have been very critical of our massive state budget and reckless spending, I believe strongly that a main role of our state government is to provide safe streets, bridges and water and sewer infrastructure. This must be one of our number one priorities in the state budget because it truly affects every aspect of our lives and safety. Also, when businesses determine whether to invest in our communities, they examine the quality of our infrastructure as it impacts their ability to do business and meet potential employees’ transportation needs.

Most people would be surprised to know that a good portion of the gasoline taxes and other transportation-related fees and surcharges paid currently go into the state’s general fund or are used to pay off state debts or operating costs. These taxes, fees and surcharges should be used instead to fund capital projects to revitalize our communities and pave the way for economic growth.

As always, I welcome your input. Please know I am working hard to have these proposals included in this year’s budget and to do everything I can to improve infrastructure here in our state.