February 21, 2017

driscoll.pngDOT Commissioner Driscoll Testifies at Assembly/Senate Budget Hearing

New York State Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll testified this past Wednesday at the joint legislative budget hearing on transportation. Members of the New York Assembly and Senate questioned Driscoll for more than 2 ½ hours on various topics pertaining to funding and programs offered through his department.

LICA Executive Director Marc Herbst, who attended the hearing in Albany, complimented Commissioner Driscoll’s presentation. “The Commissioner provided a thorough overview of his goals for the department in his opening prepared remarks. During the legislative questioning he demonstrated knowledge and understanding of the various programs and issues taking place throughout the state and within the DOT.”

Despite his understanding of the issues, multiple legislators expressed dissatisfaction to Commissioner Driscoll about the recently installed “I Love New York” signs posted along the New York State Thruway and other state highways. The Federal Highway Administration has objected to the signs, threatening to withhold federal funding if they are not removed. Driscoll alleges the federal government objects primarily to the font size of the sign lettering and the website address listings on the signs, and said that the FWHA and the state DOT have formed a “working group” to reach a satisfactory resolution to the dispute. Assemblyman and Transportation Committee Chairman David Gantt criticized the installations, claiming they contradict the state’s efforts to counter driver distraction. The hearing revealed the state has spent a total of $8.1 million on the 540 signs, amounting to approximately $15,000 each.

In addition to capital spending plans and Governor Cuomo’s mega projects, other issues discussed ranged from the authorization of Uber throughout New York State, divisible load permits, work zone cameras, and truck diesel emission controls.

Senator Thomas Croci offered perhaps the most difficult line of questioning to Driscoll, focusing on the construction of the Long Island Welcome Center along the Long Island Expressway. Pressing for a figure on the final true project cost, Croci could not get the department head to provide a figure beyond the $20.2 million amount for the “building.” The legislator inquired about the clearing of the property before the contract’s award and approval, with Driscoll readily taking full responsibility for the action. Croci asked specific questions on the expediency of the project, the acquisition and approval of necessary permits from local municipal agencies, and bidding processes for ancillary work, such as the addition of a forced main line sewer connection. As the hearing was taking place, the state announced that it was removing the over-the-counter food service at the rest area, since it was in violation of federal regulations.

Assemblyman Dave McDonough, the Ranking Republican of the Assembly Transportation Committee, focused much of his comments on the needs of Long Island. He strongly advocated for the reconstruction of Wantagh Parkway and other regional highways. He also argued for greater funding for local municipalities, including transit programs. 

Senator Todd Kaminsky, champion of the Nassau Expressway project, sought assurances that the multimillion dollar commitment will be kept, especially in light of the planned improvements to nearby JFK Airport. Driscoll said the intention was for the construction phase to begin by 2020.

Assemblyman Dean Murray, a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee, was also a panelist who continues to be a stalwart defender of Long Island’s transportation needs.

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