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:
NYS DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald. Photo: ##|

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.

  • guest

    This perspective is a little foolish. It’s really important to replace infrastructure BEFORE it crumbles. Even John Oliver knows that:

    Also, the Kosciusko Bridge is slated to get a bike lane as part of it’s replacement, so it IS a bike/ped project.

  • niccolomachiavelli

    Also, given the essential truck traffic over that span and the substantial construction jobs involved is it really q shock that this project has an important place in line, if not the front?

  • Tyson White

    Actually, you can simply close the bridge before it collapses (when engineers deem it too dangerous) and no one dies. Even if engineers make a mistake, the number of deaths probably won’t be as many as the annual state death toll. So, certain death vs. remote risk…. hmmm

  • AnoNYC

    Dismantle the Sheridan Expressway!

  • Daniel

    Some of bridges need replacing. But many of them just need a coat of paint and some minor repairs. Instead we spend hundreds of millions of dollars lining political donors’ pockets. Witness the Tappan Zee, with a current budget of 3.9 billion. All it needs to be safe is a minor road diet plus a inspect, paint, and repair job that would have been south of $0.5 billion. The road diet would simply be to remove one lane and change the direction of the center lane depending on time of day with zero impact on capacity, but giving you room for modern safety equipment. — It is in a terrible location to build a bridge, but unless you do something monumentally stupid like replace with a completely new span this is a sunk cost. Of course, since we have Cuomo and a feckless media that is exactly what we are doing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I can’t blame state DOT for wanting to repair the state’s bridges, rather than allow that aspect of the infrastructure to fall apart. I mean come on!

    Pedestrian and bicyclist safety and infrastructure is the responsibility of Mayors and County Executives. The question is, does the state get in the way or get out of the way? It needs to get out of the way.

  • Spinspinsugar

    It’s the vapid justifications that do it for me. “ease congestion, improve air quality and reduce accidents”… yeah right!

  • Brad Aaron

    It’s not that DOT shouldn’t maintain bridges, Larry, it’s that they have a history of being relatively uninterested in reducing the number of people killed while walking and biking.

    It is mostly a local responsibility, but NYS DOT hasn’t even taken the modest steps proposed by TSTC.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Which just shows that more authority should be concentrated locally, which is something that Streetsblog’s coverage around the country tells me as well.

  • running_bond

    Going to have to disagree with the tone of this article. Fixing bridges is long overdue and frankly necessary. I know it sounds auto-centric, but it has to be done. Even John Oliver is all over it.

    That said, there are very good questions about HOW they repair bridges, and making sure that they incorporate bike lanes, better pedestrian access, etc. when they do so. No more token narrow sidewalks reached by dim, dark, mazes of litter-strewn ramps!

  • jt



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