By Athena Hutchins
During the contentious 2016 presidential election, there was one issue upon which both candidates agreed: our nation’s infrastructure is in serious need of investment. Several events and trends at the national, state and local levels will affect transportation in Western New York in 2017.
If the economy maintains its positive trajectory, it will continue to impact Western New Yorkers and their travel. Locally, personal incomes increased by 4.1 percent in 2015, outpacing the nationwide number of 3.6 percent.
This past Thanksgiving, 48.7 million Americans were expected to travel, the most in nearly a decade, due to additional personal income – and low gasoline prices. We will likely see an increase in gas prices this year, but it shouldn’t deter travelers.
New York State saw a number of projects and announcements in 2016 that, once complete, will encourage new visitors and business in New York, including the new Tappan Zee Bridge, $10 billion for the transformation of John F. Kennedy Airport and roughly $40 million for the Greater Rochester International Airport and the Elmira Corning Regional Airport.
Last year, New York State approved a $55 billion transportation plan, the largest ever, with $21.1 billion in capital improvements for highways, bridges, rail and aviation, and $2 billion in Thruway stabilization funds to facilitate improvements and allow for a freeze on Thruway tolls until at least 2020.
In 2017, the state Department of Transportation will continue its environmental impact studies to review alternatives to the Skyway. Sites for a new Buffalo train station will be considered, including Canalside and the Central Terminal. A $40 million investment will result in the removal of 2 miles of the Robert Moses Parkway – now the Niagara Scenic Parkway – and addition of a park to provide new access to the world’s beloved Niagara Falls. Buffalo Niagara will begin to see the effects of a $7.8 million Federal Highway Administration grant, awarded to Western New York agencies to modernize the region’s technology systems and improve border crossing performance. Each will have an indelible impact on our transportation network.
And, in Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s January State of the State address, the extension of Metro Rail to both Amherst and the DL&W Terminal, conversion of Route 198 to Scajaquada Boulevard and a new Buffalo train station were identified as state priorities for this year.
All told, 2016 was a tremendous year for transportation, and 2017 could be even bigger. President Trump is expected to take action in regard to transportation, which could result in increased investment in roads, bridges and other critical infrastructure across the U.S.
With all of the positive momentum underway in Buffalo Niagara, investment in transportation means not only reinforcing our region as a world-class tourism destination, but also improving sound infrastructure for planes, trains and automobiles – so the repats, visitors and business owners can get here.
Athena Hutchins is executive director of the Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition.