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Double down now on rebuilding New York

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If you drive a car on Long Island, you know nothing ruins your day faster than hitting a pothole and getting a flat tire or a bent rim. For some, it’s a giant inconvenience. But for many, replacing a blown tire can be a devastating financial loss, especially those who live paycheck to paycheck, lost a job because of the pandemic or depend on their car for work.

When you consider how deteriorated, congested or unsafe infrastructure costs New Yorkers a staggering $26 billion a year, you realize those potholes drag our economy down, according to TRIP, a national transportation research nonprofit. In the metro area, this amounts to an average of $3,000 per driver per year. That’s real money people need for rent, food or medical care. It’s also cash that could be spent in our local communities to keep restaurants and other small businesses afloat. There are real human costs to allowing our roads and bridges to age and crumble — but also opportunities to create jobs by rebuilding them.

As Albany lawmakers look to pull our economy out of the COVID-19 recession, they should lead by funding a comprehensive infrastructure program in the 2021 budget.

Infrastructure spending has been a go-to economic stimulus ever since the Great Depression. In times of economic crisis, investing in roads and bridges spurs growth, creates jobs and boosts local tax revenue. An infrastructure program has potential to put thousands of New Yorkers to work, which would lead to increased activity at small businesses, spending for materials and tools, and heightened demand for professional services. When roads and bridges are renewed, our ability to transport goods and workers is stabilized, and drivers spend less replacing broken tires or burning gas while sitting in traffic.

What’s more, our roads and bridges need an upgrade. Most of our infrastructure was built decades ago, and many roads and bridges have outlived their expected useful lives while needed repairs have gone undone. We live in a world of smart phones, but most of us are driving on roads and bridges more akin to a fax machine than an Android.

Construction is also among the safest and most essential lines of work during this pandemic. Over the last 10 months, the construction industry and its workers have become proficient at safety measures that keep worksites and workers healthy and virus-free. Particularly on outdoor projects, the nature of the work lends itself to social distancing. Combined with regular temperature-taking, proper use of PPE and old-fashioned personal responsibility, the construction sector has adapted to the COVID-19 world.

The state’s economic picture is alarming, but cutting infrastructure funding is not the answer; indeed, it would make New York’s future fiscal picture even worse. Now is the time for Albany to double down on its commitment to our state’s infrastructure. Funding a program to rebuild roads and bridges is a valuable government investment. And when we reach the other side of the recession, we will have a more stable system of infrastructure that will help attract jobs and spur growth.

We know this works. So let’s make it happen.

Mike Elmendorf is president and chief executive of Rebuild New York Now, a statewide coalition that advocates for renewed infrastructure. He is also president of the Associated General Contractors of New York State.