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Preserve What We Have: Draft TIP 2014 – 2018

By Nick Giangreco:
Draft TIP 2014 – 2018 (Transportation Improvement Program) consists of all federally funded roadways, transit and major transportation projects being presented within Erie and Niagara Counties over the next five years. There is considerable difference between the current TIP Draft and the past TIP 2011 – 2015. The extreme differences between the two are the amount of monies available and the percentage of resources used toward preservation projects. These extremities will continue to increase due to the lack of available resources. 
Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) such as the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC), place infrastructure projects in two different categories. Depending on the condition of roadways, bridges and pedestrian infrastructure, projects are categorized either as “preservation” or “beyond preservation”. Simply put, the purpose of preservation projects is to maintain and repair existing infrastructure. These projects preserve the functionality of an existing system. On the other hand, beyond preservation projects are typically extensive and more costly. These projects consist of extensive construction such as road widening and complete structural makeovers. Due to continuing limited transportation funding, 85% of available resources are being used for preservation projects. In past TIP 2011 – 2015, preservation projects utilized 45% of the available funding. Clearly, there is a depreciation of funds towards infrastructure resulting in a statewide movement toward preservation projects.
With the decline of available resources, time has come that the state base decisions on “preserve what we have” rather than the “build new” approach. To ensure that the state makes fiscally conservative decisions, they have identified four guiding principles to meet customer needs; Preservation First, Systems Not Projects, Maximize Return on Investment, and Make It Sustainable.  A common theme integrated into these four principles and inherent in all of their investment decisions is stewardship of safety as well as cautious spending. By adhering to these principles, they strive to keep the system safe while maximizing the life of existing infrastructure while working to improve livability and promote economic development within context of limited financial resources. These principles have been set in place to stretch every dollar in hopes new sources of money will arrive in the future. MPOs and its member agencies will use the available resources to the best of their abilities.
MPO members distribute dollars from the federal gas tax to a variety of needed transportation related projects. Since 1993, the federal gas tax has not increased; gasoline use has decreased and the cost of road repair has risen faster than prices in general. These factors have compromised the balance between funding and the needed spending toward projects. Considering the lack of resources, NYS will continue to invest in current infrastructure rather than creating new. Preservation projects make sense during this tough economic time. However, a good or bad economy will not change how funding is obtained. The GBNRTC as with other MPOs must find creative ways to fund transportation projects. Planning for new projects and maintaining current infrastructure is necessary for a prosperous future. Might it be resolved at the federal level, state and local level, or even within the private sector, supplemental sources of funding must be obtained. 
To uphold the functionality of the current transportation system in a safe and reliable manner and while recognizing fiscal constraints, it is essential to follow a deliberate and strategic approach to best manage assets. With a decrease in available funding, NYS will invest more in preservation projects rather than beyond preservation projects. Nevertheless, these fiscal constraints will continue to become worse. Bearing in mind how infrastructure is currently funded, it is likely that funding will continue to decrease. Clearly, the gas tax is an unreliable collection and supplemental sources need to be developed. 
Visit the GBNRTC Interactive TIP 2014 – 2018 Projects Map – The map provides TIP site location, a brief description, and project cost 
Public Meeting
Review & Comment on Draft TIP 2014 – 2018 
April 18, 5:30 to 7:30 pm 
Buffalo & Erie County Public Library – Buffalo, NY

Written by Buffalo Rising

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