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Funding could be biggest roadblock to creating new transportation options in central NY

Tom Magnarelli
Public meeting of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council.


The Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council is studying how to improve transportation in Central New York over the next 35 years. But at a public meeting this week, the council said the biggest roadblock is funding.

The transportation council said they are studying a light rail transit or bus rapid transit system along two heavy traffic corridors in Syracuse: Destiny USA to Syracuse University and James Street to Onondaga Community College.

That's because about 35,000 residents live and work in the city, making it the largest commuter flow in central New York. About 19,000 commuters working in the city live in the towns of Clay, Cicero and Salina.

But James D’Agostino, director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council says they can't properly plan for these projects without long-term funding from Congress.

“They need to actually tell us how much money we're going to have for a period of time if you want anyone to be able to plan for, invest and build a future for their communities. If you're telling us we only know we're going to have this much money for the next 60 days, well, we can keep your bridges safe and your pavement paved,” said D’Agostino.

Credit Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News
James D’Agostino, director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council.

Road, bridge and transit maintenance accounts for about 80 percent of what is the expected local and federal funding for transportation in central New York for the next 15 years. That means, at the current rate, there's not room for much else.

“It costs a lot more to fix a bridge and a lot more to pave a road than it did 20 years ago, and the money we get has not gone up. Therefore, we just do a lot less. And that's why you might notice, the conditions of some bridges and some roads are not as good as you might want them to be,” he said.

One possible solution D'Agostino says, is to close some bridges, which would save money. But, he also says that once bridges are built they are almost impossible to decommission.

“People think now it's a safety issue, because now it's going to take me 10 minutes longer for an ambulance to get to my house. What are you going to say it's not true? Of course it's true, it's going to take longer to get to the house. But at what cost? The number of bridges in the city of Syracuse that are redundant, that go over the same body of water is immense.”

The transportation council will have a public meeting in late summer to present another draft of their long-range plan which will be finalized in October.


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.