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Bold Ideas proposed By Senator Kennedy as the New Chair of NYS Senate Transportation Committee

Last month the New York State Senate Transportation Committee convened for their first meeting of 2019, with Senator Tim Kennedy (D) as the newly appointed chair. This is the first time a WNY representative has chaired the powerful committee and there is little doubt WNY will benefit from having Kennedy at the helm.  Over the course of the initial session, Kennedy laid out a new path for the year’s legislative session. With a focus on the future that encompasses all of New York, Kennedy focused in on carving out legislation and policy that would not only configure outdated highways in upstate cities, but also, fund critical infrastructure such as crumbling roads and bridges, as well as look to usher in a new era of clean emission vehicles to combat climate change. 

This bold and progressive agenda is refreshingly aggressive – using words like “crisis” to describe the current state of infrastructure in New York. However, this phrasing will come as no surprise to those that have seen recent reports claiming that America’s transportation infrastructure is in desperate need of updating. In fact, in a recent report (published November 2018) by TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group, estimates that rough, congested roads that lack updated Safety Features cost NYS drivers $24.8 Billion dollars.

Individual motorists in the Buffalo-Niagara region alone, lose more than $1,700 per year due to the condition of our roads, due to a higher vehicle operating cost, traffic crashes, as well as congestion-related delays.

Ryan Forrestel, president of Cold Spring Construction, a highway and bridge construction company, and co-chair of the FAIR Committee of WNY (Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Revenue), a non-partisan advocacy organization whose primary goal is to assure that Western New York receives their fair share of the transportation funds distributed in New York State adds,

“The vertical resurgence can be seen everywhere with construction cranes dotting our skyline. That said, while there have been dozens of new buildings built representing well over a billion dollars of investment, the horizontal investment in the form of public infrastructure (roads, bridges, sewers, etc.) have not kept pace.  There has been over $500 million invested in new buildings at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. And there is no doubt that it is an important part of the economic future of Buffalo.  That said, the streets and sidewalks surrounding the BNMC are in deplorable condition.  The main thoroughfares bringing employees, patients and visitors to the campus do not represent the quality of the built environment on the campus and we must change this equation immediately.”

Walk-able and bike-able communities

Kennedy announced the Committee will hold hearings in Syracuse and Buffalo prior to the state budget being finalized. Other issues Kennedy said the Committee will take up in the coming year include regulation of autonomous vehicles and limousines, school zone and school bus safety, work zone safety, pedestrian safety, and strengthening drunk and drugged driving laws, as well as an emphasis on:

  • Walk-able communities
  • Transit oriented development
  • Capping part of the Kensington Expressway around the Museum of Science
  • High-speed rail
  • Equitable funding for all of NYS

The full text of Senator Kennedy’s remarks are below:

I welcome my colleagues to the first meeting of the Transportation Committee of the 2019 Legislative Session.

I want to recognize Ranking Member Senator Joe Robach. I look forward to working with you on behalf of all New Yorkers, from Buffalo to the tip of Long Island.

This year, we will make bold decisions that will move our state forward. This committee is uniquely positioned to take on some of New York’s most daunting challenges, from reducing climate change to alleviating economic inequality and I am fully committed to this task.

We have major issues to tackle and the only way we’ll be able to accomplish our goals is by asking ourselves what kind of state we want — and what kind of world we want our kids and our grandchildren to live in — 50 or 100 years from now.

This committee will have the monumental task of working to fix the mistakes of previous generations — like running highways through communities, underfunding critical infrastructure, and changing our climate with toxic emissions.

We have the opportunity of a generation —  to shape the future of the MTA — what should be the best public transportation system in the world. After years of underfunding, mismanagement, and dysfunction, this is truly an inflection point where we will decide if New York City will continue to be the economic engine of this state, our nation, and frankly, our global economy.

Without a high-functioning, efficiently managed transit system, our productivity and commerce grinds to a halt. Residents in every corner of every borough in the City and the suburban communities surrounding it, should have access to reliable, quality service.

I look forward to working with Senator Leroy Comrie as chair of the Corporations Committee, and all my downstate colleagues to make the MTA what all New Yorkers expect and deserve. And I look forward to making sure as much of the spending on the MTA to come stays in New York: with New York labor and purchasing from New York companies, so that we can support all areas of New York’s economy.

We will study innovative “last mile” options to give commuters convenient ways to get to their destination after riding the bus or subway.

Included in “last mile” will be a full examination of transit deserts across our state. I’ve heard this not only from residents in my district in Western New York, but also from riders and advocates in Queens, Bronx, and other areas of New York City and across the state – transit must get better at reaching areas where people live, and whether it’s adding rail lines or bus rapid transit, fixing existing bus lines where buses regularly fail to show up, or simply allowing residents to utilize existing options at lower prices – everything must be on the table.

In my hometown of Buffalo, we need to begin fixing the damage caused by what is now the Kensington Expressway– a highway that splits the East Side down the middle, like a scar, fracturing a community and destroying a historic parkway in the process.  

I know all of my colleagues have similar situations in or around their districts — from Rochester and Syracuse to the Hudson Valley and Long Island  — and I look forward to learning more about them and how we can work to make right these past decisions that hurt our communities.

We need to make sure that all regions of our state receive equitable funding. I have always supported and will continue to support updating our antiquated state funding formulas and ensure they are taking all modes of transit into consideration — including light rail.

This Committee will study, and ultimately invest in the new technology that will shape our transportation future.

There is no doubt that the current dysfunction in Washington will slow our progress to fund the most significant transportation needs. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move forward with innovative solutions to build the infrastructure we need for the next generation. 

We need to develop and build High Speed Rail — connecting metropolitan areas and communities in need of enhanced economic development opportunities.

We will work with Senator Kaminsky and the Environmental Conservation Committee to make sure New York State continues to be a national leader on environmental standards for vehicle emissions, even as the White House and EPA choose to turn a blind eye to climate science.

We’ll make sure companies seeking to put autonomous vehicles on our roads follow strict guidelines, protecting drivers and pedestrians, but not stifling their innovation and growth potential.

Innovation and developing a new transportation future is certainly exciting, but our first obligation is to protect our residents.

I also look forward to working with my colleagues on the Transportation Committee to keep our constituents safe.

We must re-authorize speed cameras in New York City, and look at other cities where speed cameras can save the lives of our children simply trying to get to and from school safely.

We must incentivize, and in some cases require, complete streets — ensuring pedestrians and bicyclists have a place to share the road with vehicles – helping to encourage alternative and environmentally friendly modes of transportation.

We need to protect those who build our infrastructure by making sure cars slow down in work zones — road crews shouldn’t have to fear for their lives when they go to work.

We will take up legislation regulating the limo industry so a senseless and horrific tragedy like we saw in this region just a few months ago never happens again.

And finally, we need to strengthen and update our laws so no one, ever, loses a loved one to a drunk or drugged driver.

This year, we are going to pass legislation, fund budget priorities and hold public hearings to address these issues, and more.

I plan to schedule public hearings and forums over the next few weeks so we can hear about transportation and infrastructure priorities throughout the state. I am working to schedule hearings on Long Island, Manhattan, Syracuse and Buffalo before we approve the budget.

We will specifically look into the crisis at the MTA, including the Long Island Rail Road, Metro North, bus and subway service, which more than 15 million people rely on each day.

We will hold hearings on funding disparities and capital needs for upstate and Western New York, knowing that a strong transportation network and improved infrastructure is a prerequisite for building a strong economy.

The future of our state, in many ways, is tied directly to our transportation priorities. I look forward to working with all of you to tackle these issues head on over the next two years, making New York the leader in transportation innovation. I know we are up to the challenge.

Thank you and welcome once again to my colleagues on this committee. I’m looking forward to a very productive year.

Written by Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli

Jessica Marinelli is a WNY native, born and raised in the Lincoln Park area of Tonawanda. She has been involved in local politics from an early age and is currently a Tonawanda Democratic Committee Member. As an avid equestrian and animal-lover, she trained and re-homed over 40 horses. For over a decade, she was an event planner with the law firm, Hodgson Russ LLP, and now owns her own marketing and event management company. She has worked with international and national organizations on large and small scale events. Jessica writes on politics and local events, as well as working with Buffalo Rising as a social reporter.

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