Joan McDonald: New York State DOT’s Top Safety Priority Is Fixing Bridges

Pedestrians and cyclists account for a higher share of traffic deaths in New York than in any other state, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, making up 29 percent of all traffic fatalities.

NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: CT.gov
NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: ##http://www.ct.gov/ecd/cwp/view.asp?a=1095&q=287398&ecdNav=|##CT.gov##

Every year, TSTC releases a report on the most dangerous roads for walking in the New York City metro region, and suggests steps the New York State Department of Transportation could take to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists state-wide. Among other recommendations, this year TSTC called on NYS DOT to establish a dedicated fund for pedestrian and bike projects, and to devote $20 million a year toward them, on top of funds already allocated in the state budget and DOT capital program.

But when City & State asked Commissioner Joan McDonald what her agency hopes to get done in 2015, making it safer to walk and bike didn’t come up.

The state’s top priority is always safety and our most important initiatives reflect that. The largest project in NYSDOT history — the $555 million replacement of the Kosciuszko Bridge — got underway last fall and is entering its first full construction season. The new bridge will relieve a well-known bottleneck along the Brooklyn Queens Expressway, ease congestion, improve air quality and reduce accidents. This project is scheduled to be completed in 2018. Other substantial investments include Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to spend $1.2 billion on the NY Works program, which re-paved more than 2,100 miles of roads and rehabilitated or replaced 121 bridges. Also under construction is the $148 million rehabilitation of the Patroon Island Bridge in Albany. Also in this budget, Governor Cuomo proposed committing $750 million over five years to accelerate the rehabilitation, reconstruction or replacement of more than 100 bridges statewide that serve critical freight, agriculture and commerce corridors.

No doubt many bridges are in bad shape, but collapsing bridges aren’t responsible for the death toll on New York streets.

We asked Tri-State about McDonald’s remarks, and Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool had another recommendation for DOT: converting the Sheridan Expressway into a surface street.

One important initiative we would like to see NYS DOT advance is an environmental study to advance key recommendations for the Sheridan-Hunts Point land use study. The project, much like the rehab of the Kosciuszko Bridge, will ease congestion, improve air quality, reduce accidents, and improve pedestrian safety in the Bronx where asthma and pedestrian fatality rates are high, for a fraction of the cost of the Bridge. We hope to see this project prioritized in NYS DOT’s upcoming capital program, which we’ve all been anticipating for quite some time.

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