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Utica wants to use locked congressional funding to pay for pedestrian walkways, bicycle lanes

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO News File Photo
Democratic New York Sen. Charles Schumer (right) and Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri at Harbor Point in Utica.

  Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is calling on the Federal Highway Administration and the New York State Department of Transportation to unlock funds for the city of Utica to use in a new project. The funds were frozen because they were earmarked for a different project that never went through.

Congress awarded Utica $2 million more than 10 years ago to make repairs to a bridge that was ultimately closed down. The project was put off and the funds went largely unspent. Now, Utica has a citywide master plan to connect downtown, Bagg’s Square and Harbor Point with new bicycle lanes and pedestrian walkways. The city wants to use those funds to help cover some costs. But federal rules had blocked earmarked funds from being reused on different projects.    

“It’s like going to a bank after you make a deposit and they say you can’t take out your money, it’s not yours anymore," Schumer said. "Utica has seen some growth over the years in downtown and Bagg's Square district. Why shouldn't we capitalize on that with money we already have? It makes no sense to let this money sit under lock and key. It makes less sense to divert them elsewhere to a project that is not needed."

Schumer said he helped pass a law last year that would allow the money to be reused if it was earmarked more than 10 years ago, 90 percent of the funds remain unspent and the new project is within 50 miles of the original. Utica’s Harbor Pedestrian Project meets those criteria and Schumer said it is possible Utica could receive the money within months depending on when the Federal Highway Administration and the state Department of Transportation process the change.  

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
Harbor Point in Utica.

“Cyclists, pedestrians will come and walk," Schumer said. "It will be beautiful, the whole thing will be beautified. What happens when that happens? Stores, shops, cafes, restaurants open creating jobs. The water here is a beautiful resource, we ought to use it.”

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said there is a concept and plan for the area that is shovel-ready.

“It would be Christmas in August,” Palmieri said. "We've always said that we're looking for a pedestrian carry-through, walkway and this is what it will do, it will give you the walkway, the facility and the marsh to make it much more user-friendly. This is going to be a neighborhood mixed with residential, light commercial and retail."  

The project will double the width of a stretch of existing sidewalk and reconfigure an intersection for better vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian traffic. 

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.