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Ensuring blue skies over Long Island economy

A 2018 aerial view of the Bethpage Black

A 2018 aerial view of the Bethpage Black golf course. The state park was begun before the Works Project Administration was founded, but with its assistance the project's scope expanded. Credit: Jeffrey Basinger and Raychel Brightman

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Long Islanders are used to storms battering against our shorelines. That’s because our region has a history of effectively washing away the destruction to build anew, better and stronger than before. The six appointees of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Long Island Regional Control Room, charged with helping to reopen the Nassau-Suffolk economy, would be wise to consider the success of past recovery efforts. The right COVID-19 economic cleanup plan will serve to minimize anxieties and restore prosperity.

Whether a meteorological, economic or public health disaster, our most successful response efforts often include investment in public infrastructure. When the floodwaters and winds of superstorm Sandy subsided after devastating Long Island in 2012, our region’s heavy-construction industry got to work, protecting and rebuilding critical pieces of our region’s $5.9 billion tourism industry: oceanfront beaches, Ocean Parkway and the Long Beach boardwalk, which were reconstructed in time for the summer season.

Four years earlier, when financial markets declined from the collapse of Wall Street, the securities industry — which the state comptroller said leads to the creation of two jobs for everyone finance job — saw a riptide ripple effect, losing employment in the opposite direction. The federal plan for economic recovery included a proven response to buoy the economy — infrastructure. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 recognized that investment in public works would help kick-start the economy. Investment in heavy construction is shown to have an even greater effect than finance, by creating three additional jobs for every one in construction — additional jobs that are mostly high-paying positions such as architecture, engineering, insurance, banking, and manufacturing.

When the storm clouds of the Great Depression darkened our nation, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal created the Works Project Administration. This program transformed the geography of Long Island more than any weather event, including the “Hurricane Express” of 1938 that cut the Shinnecock Inlet through our East End. The WPA helped build the Long Island parkway system and many of the park facilities we enjoy today.

Beyond the shorelines of Long Island, infrastructure investment has been a proven staple to restore a beacon of hope and shine success on job creation and economic stability. A history of our nation’s public works initiatives includes the Interstate Highway System, Hoover Dam, Erie Canal and the Transcontinental Railroad.

Amid the economic downturn, we are hopeful that Cuomo will continue his commitment to rebuilding New York State’s infrastructure. His decision to prioritize the reopening of this sector was an important first step toward jump-starting the economy. An important next step would be to identify priority projects throughout the region.

Investment in public projects such as addressing the Oakdale Merge, completing the rehabilitation of Route 347, and addressing capacity needs along our “Big Three” (the LIE, Northern and Southern Parkways) and other major thoroughfares, has shown to be prudent planning.

With the likelihood that social distancing may lead more residents to resort to the security and solitude of their automobiles instead of mass transit, the need to repair, expand and improve our local roads and highways will become even more critical — and provide more job opportunities.

I am confident that the Regional Control Room will continue the state’s effective response to the COVID-19 outbreak and implement successful past practices to ensure a forecast for blue skies ahead.

Marc Herbst is executive director of the Long Island Contractors’ Association. 

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