The Construction Industry Council of Westchester and Hudson Valley Inc. is suggesting that an increase in the state gasoline tax coupled with increased vehicle registration fees and a vehicle mileage tax based on travel usage could help pay for infrastructure improvements that it says are needed.
The trade organization represents more than 600 companies, consultants and service professions in the construction industry and is headquartered in Tarrytown.
The state’s gas tax is 45.6 cents per gallon. In addition to that is a federal gas tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. County and local sales taxes can add to the total of the taxes on fuel paid by motorists.
CIC Executive Director John J. Cooney Jr. sent a letter Dec. 11 to the state senators and assembly members representing the Hudson Valley region as a follow-up to his testimony on Dec. 6 before the Assembly Transportation Committee.
“The potential for New York state’s future growth and economic well-being is tied to the investment we make today in our transportation infrastructure,” Cooney wrote.
He characterized unmet needs for pavement maintenance and other improvements that can add to transportation safety as deeply troubling.
“New York state must step up and meet the backlog of pavement deterioration, which we witness every day as drivers are dodging potholes on subpar roadways and suffering damage to our vehicles. Traffic safety and preventive maintenance must again become a top priority throughout the state,” Cooney wrote.
Cooney told the Business Journal that while increasing the gasoline tax may be a hot-button issue for many politicians, “At the end of the day it is a user tax, so to the extent that the tax money goes to the improvement of our roads and bridges, the people that are paying that increased tax see that benefit. So, yes, it may be a hot-button issue, but to me it is a perfectly placed user tax. People will see improvement from the increase in that gas tax directly.”
Cooney said the increased use of fuel-efficient and electric vehicles mean fewer sales of gasoline and diesel and a reduction in the collection of fuel taxes.
Cooney and other construction industry leaders in their Dec. 6 testimony asked for additional funding for the Department of Transportation Capital Program that begins on April 1, 2020. The five-year spending plan carries a price tag of $29.2 billion. Cooney and his colleagues believe it needs to be in the range of $35 billion to $40 billion. In addition to increasing fuel taxes and motor vehicle fees, they cited sports betting and marijuana sales as possible sources of revenue.
“Let’s earmark some of those new monies for infrastructure improvements,” Cooney said.
Cooney noted that the Hudson Valley is experiencing unprecedented growth and pointed to projects such as the Resorts World Catskills Casino and the Kartrite Resort in Monticello and the Legoland New York Resort being built in Goshen. He said that in addition to generating new jobs and millions of dollars for local economies, the developments also add thousands of vehicle trips onto local roads that are beyond capacity.
Cooney advocated for widening Route 17 in Orange County, which is designated to someday become Interstate 86. When asked if he’d like to see the widening of other roads, such as I-684 in Westchester, which has frequent rush-hour backups due to volume, he said, “Yes, I would agree with that.”
When asked by the Business Journal about the recent controversy caused by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to put a toll on the small section of I-684 that runs through Greenwich, Cooney said that sort of idea doesn’t help promote a regional view of transportation infrastructure.
“I’m optimistic that a regional view will take place versus what I would call a pretty small-minded, almost trick maneuver, by the state of Connecticut in this instance. I do know that the bordering states’ governors do meet and I do think they discuss a larger regional approach to certain things.”
Cooney said he looks for 2020 to bring continuation of the economic activity that has helped boost the construction industry along with other sectors.
“The ranks of people involved in construction in New York state in our area, the Hudson Valley, has grown and we’re quite happy and pleased with that. The deployment of some key capital funds to promote growth is a key part of the future growth of the New York state economy,” Cooney said.