Andrew Cuomo ran down his list of big transportation projects in the State of the State Address yesterday, and despite the billions it will take to build everything on his agenda, the governor didn’t say anything about how he’ll raise the money to pay for it. He did work in a line about toll cuts for Thruway drivers, though.
In the speech, Cuomo marveled at New York’s history of building “the longest bridges, the deepest tunnels” and set his sights on eclipsing the legacy of Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Under Rockefeller in the 1960s, New York built a staggering amount of highways, but his most important contribution to the state’s transportation system had less to do with physical infrastructure and more with the structure of institutions.
By forming the MTA in 1968, Rockefeller wrested control of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority from Robert Moses and funneled its surplus toll revenues to the New York region’s transit system instead of the master builder’s road projects. Who knows what a busted mess New York City would be today if Moses had retained power much longer.
When it comes to transportation, Cuomo’s version of thinking big is all about monumental objects, not major institutional shifts that can deliver long-term prosperity. If he was secretly waiting until the last conceivable moment to come out for a transformational policy like the Move NY toll reform plan, the State of the State was pretty much it. No such luck — it looks like New York will be mired in traffic, thanks to its free bridges, at least until there’s a new governor.
Meanwhile, Cuomo’s commitments to road spending, the MTA capital program, and mega-projects of varying merit (LIRR third track beats the pants off the Airtrain to LaGuardia) still run into the tens of billions of dollars. Even if some of these projects end up just not happening (remember the Aqueduct convention center that Cuomo plugged a couple of years ago?), New Yorkers should be worried about who’s going to pick up the tab for it all. Especially the road projects, because if Cuomo has shown us anything about how he likes to pay for infrastructure, it’s that he’s averse to asking motorists to cover the cost of the highways and bridges they use.