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New York Mayor Pursuing Billions in Federal Infrastructure Funds

Wed August 30, 2023 - Northeast Edition #19
The City

The city has requested $1.5 billion in part to rebuild the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. (NYC DOT photo)
The city has requested $1.5 billion in part to rebuild the Brooklyn Queens Expressway. (NYC DOT photo)

With billions of dollars at stake, the administration of New York City Mayor Eric Adams has launched a plan to capture as much as possible from the $1.2 trillion the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) over the next decade.

The city currently has approximately $1 billion in hand but has requested another $1.5 billion in part to rebuild the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and to create an electric vehicle fleet and charging ports throughout the metropolis.

While a majority of the federal money is handed out according to pre-set formulas, New York must wrangle for about a quarter of the funds that are allocated through competitive grants, reported The City, a local nonprofit digital news site.

"We are applying for everything," Meera Joshi, deputy mayor for operations, who is leading the effort, told The City. "We are sophisticated in applying for grants, but the range of complexity of our needs is huge."

Of course, New York also is just one local government seeking what the New York Building Congress (NYBC) estimates is at least $200 billion that could come to the state.

The biggest grant to date was announced in July, when Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, said almost $7 billion had been allocated for the Gateway Project to build a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, allowing construction to begin.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) had been promised $4.5 billion, virtually all of it according to the formulas built into the law, reported The City. It has won competitive grants worth $400 million for ADA improvements in Brooklyn, battery powered buses and several other projects.

All of them have been in the works for decades, making the city's task more difficult.

"We have to be able to say we have a plan," explained Carlo Scissura, president of the NYBC. "The city has to identify projects that meet the requirements of the infrastructure law."

High on his priorities are tearing down expressways like the BQE and the Cross Bronx and rebuilding them as covered roadways.

The Adams administration announced that it had received almost $1 billion in competitive grants to help finance the rebuilding of the Hunts Point Terminal Market in The Bronx, build e-bike charging stations at public housing projects, buy electric school buses and improve several dangerous intersections.

Joshi, who had been involved in passing and implementing the new law while working at the federal Department of Transportation before joining the Adams administration, has revamped the city's approach to federal funding.

According to The City, she has assembled a task force of about 50 regular participants from 15 city agencies usually represented by chief finance, policy and capital officials.

In a reversal of previous city policy, agencies now compete against each other rather than someone choosing one proposal to submit, and each project must have several objectives such as proposing the creation of a public space that includes measures to make the area resistant to climate change.

New York Needs to Repair Two Major Expressways

New York City has submitted to the federal government proposals for projects totaling $1.5 billion and expects to increase that figure to $2.5 billion at year's end, the online news site reported.

An even bigger request is expected soon when the Adams administration is expected to announce its plan to rebuild the crumbling triple cantilever section of the BQE in Brooklyn and to seek more than $2 billion in federal infrastructure funds to pay for it.

"More than 13,000 trucks a day use that highway and it is the poster child for neglect," Joshi said, adding that the reconstruction will be a joint city and state effort, the first time the two have worked together on such a project.

Longer range would be tearing down and rebuilding the BQE and the Cross Bronx Expressway, the latter of which divided many low-income residential communities when it was constructed in the mid-20th century.

New York City has received a $1 million planning grant for the Cross Bronx and is working with communities along the BQE to come up with a proposal on what to do about that expressway, which could involve putting it in a tunnel or on street level but having it capped or enclosed. The cost would be more than $10 billion.

The federal IIJA requires localities to come up with 20 percent of the cost, which the city would do through its capital budget. The law encourages use of union labor, which is not a problem in New York, since all public projects are mandated to be unionized.

The IIJA also demands community participation and the awarding of contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses, The City noted.

New York has hosted more than 50 public meetings and hearings on its plans for the BQE, Joshi noted, and in early August the mayor announced an effort to streamline data collection, one step in its plan to increase minority- and women-owned business participation.

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