What's the Issue?
Volume One: The Urgent Need for Infrastructure Investment
What is the Issue?
In our "What's the Issue?" series, we aim to break down some of the most pressing big-picture issues so that we can see how they directly impact us right here in our communities.
Public infrastructure, such as our roads, bridges, airports, and public transit networks that bind our nation together, represent a significant portion of our national wealth and capital. Infrastructure supports economic growth, forming the economy’s capital base and serving as vital linkages that make the economy work every day. Infrastructure provides for the reliable movement of products, services, and workers.
Over time, with insufficient maintenance, our public infrastructure's value and condition decline. The combined federal, state, and local spending on infrastructure was $441 billion in 2017, or 2.3% of U.S. GDP, according to the Congressional Budget Office (1), well below estimates of the spending needed to properly maintain our infrastructure. Increasing numbers of national and local leaders have come to recognize and discuss how to deal with evident problems, which include finding an estimated $2 trillion just to rebuild (2).
Time for Action
President Biden's administration announced their infrastructure plan in April 2021, which calls for a $2 trillion investment, including $174 billion in spending to boost the electric vehicle market and $115 billion to repair and rebuild bridges, highways and roads (3).
Infrastructure isn’t limited to concrete and asphalt, it spurs economic growth and supports the vital linkages that make Nassau’s economy work every day. Now is the time for our region to seize the moment with ideas that meet the following criteria:
- Shovel-ready and worthy projects that will grow our economy
- Investments that provide taxpayers a return on their money
- Efficiencies that lessen the operating costs in our budgets
National Impact Dashboard
Local Impact Dashboard
The Current Condition: Roads and Bridges
New York's infrastructure received an overall "C-" grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). The state's roads and bridges are among the categories most in need of repair, receiving grades of "D-" and "D+" respectively due to their state of deterioration and inadequate funding to improve conditions (4).
On Long Island:
- 1% (6 of 689) of locally and state-maintained bridges are rated in poor condition/structurally deficient condition, which means the bridges need repair but are not unsafe for public travel.
- 56% have been rated in fair condition indicating minor deterioration has occurred; and
- 43% are rated in good condition in 2019 (5).
Three of the structurally deficient bridges are located within Nassau County. Despite the low percentage of structurally deficient bridges on Long Island, they carry an estimate of 78,000 vehicles each day (6).
Why it Matters
The deteriorated state of roads and bridges can lead to increasing constraints on road capacity and unnecessary congestion. A National Transportation Research Nonprofit (TRIP) Report estimated that "the average Long Island commuter spent an additional 81 hours annually stuck in traffic due to congestion, and the average annual cost of traffic congestion to a Long Island commuter is $1,684 in the value of wasted time and fuel" (7). Traffic congestion on Long Island resulted in an annual economic cost of $162 million.
The majority of commuting in Nassau County is in private vehicles, either driving alone or as part of a carpool. In 2019, 68% of County residents drove to work alone, 7% carpooled, 17% took public transit, and the remaining utilized other forms of transportation (8).
Most notably, car ownership increased almost twice as fast as the County population for the past 10 years. Standard vehicle registration to County residents, which excluded commercial vehicles, buses, trailers, motorcycles, farm vehicles, or taxis, increased 5% from 2008 to 2018 (9). Overall registration rose 6% during the same period when the County population only grew by 4%. One contributing factor to the increased auto registration and congestion is a lack of reliable and accessible public transportation alternatives (10).
Already the region experiences a significant level of traffic congestion, which is anticipated to increase significantly over the next 25 years. By 2045, daily vehicle travel during rush hour on Long Island is expected to increase by approximately 13% and daily vehicle hours of delay during rush hour are expected to increase by 57%, from approximately 650,000 hours to approximately 1 million hours (11).
Of more than 18,000 intersections in New York analyzed by research firm INRIX during one week last fall, five that had some of the worst delays were in Nassau County (12).
For instance, the intersection of Long Beach Boulevard and East Park Avenue in Long Beach had the most daily hours of delay. According to estimates in the report, some 95,600 cars passed through the intersection each day on average during the week studied, and together motorists spent more than 1,000 hours a day waiting for the light to change.
Local Snapshot: Investment
The Long Island Contractors Association attests that over the last four years, local government spending on Long Island on highways, streets and bridges has averaged $271 million and accounts for 65 percent of all spending in the region.
Despite decreasing state highway and bridge construction investment on Long Island over the last four years, local spending has remained steady, averaging $271 million per year between 2014 and 2017 (13).
Source: Long Island Contractor's Association
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran's Pavement Management Program allows residents to track which roads are scheduled for repavement, as well as providing information as to which roads are managed by Nassau County.
The Department of Public Works' Pavement Management Program utilizes assessments performed by engineers to identify and prioritize roadway restoration programs and schedules. The Nassau County Pavement Management Viewer provides the public with the most current information on road segments planned for resurfacing.
The Current Condition: Wastewater
New York's wastewater infrastructure received an overall "D" grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE). Across New York State, 610 wastewater treatment facilities serve 1,610 municipalities. These facilities are dedicated to keeping water clean and safe. However, aging infrastructure has become a major problem for the state. One in every four of New York's wastewater facilities are operating beyond their 30-year useful life expectancy, and wastewater treatment plant equipment average over 30 years old (14).
The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that New York needs at least $36.2 billion over the next 20 years to repair, replace, and update its municipal water infrastructure (15). This wastewater infrastructure gap is more than what state and local governments can address on their own. Coordinated investment at the federal level is essential to meet the needs of upgrading and expanding sustainable wastewater infrastructure.
Why it Matters
Wastewater infrastructure can create new employment, stimulate investment from the private sector, and increase tax bases for counties. Every dollar invested in water and wastewater infrastructure would generate $2.03 in over a 20-year period, on average, of which $0.68 is new state and local tax revenue (16). Further, the National Association of Utility Contractors estimates that $1 billion invested in water and wastewater infrastructure can create more than 26,000 jobs (17). Each dollar spent yields $2.62 in economic output in other industries.
The wastewater infrastructure gap can also negatively impact families, businesses, and the overall economy. Households and private/public industries are projected to experience higher costs to procure water and wastewater services in the form of increased water rates. They will face the choice of whether or not to relocate to better-served areas if the funding gap is not closed. An investment to keep water and wastewater infrastructure in a good state of repair would support $94 billion in annual productivity savings nationally (18). This would allow businesses to control their production costs and households to retain their spending power.
Furthermore these projects help to ensure our vital assets are projected. New York State has been hit with extreme water events in recent years. Hurricane Sandy alone caused $100 million in damage to wastewater treatment facilities. This damage impacted the Bay Park Sewage Treatment Plant on Long Island and the Yonkers Joint Wastewater Treatment Plant in Westchester, both of which were inundated with salt water.
Already today, extreme weather and climate change demonstrate evidence of severe challenges to our critical infrastructure. In the foreseeable future, these challenges could become even more demanding. The development and maintenance of wastewater infrastructure require significant capital investments. Infrastructure investment from the federal level is necessary and must continue to address these challenges before the next major storm hits our community.
Bay Park Conveyance Project
The ongoing Bay Park Conveyance Project seeks to restore the ecosystem and water quality in the Western Bays by diverting treated effluent, or waste from Reynold's Channel into the Atlantic Ocean. The plan will significantly reduce nitrogen loading from wastewater effluent entering the Western Bays each year to achieve resiliency benefits (19). However, the pandemic has disrupted the construction and completion of many infrastructure projects. The project requires stimulus funding that would help to offset long-term County debt in excess of $350 million (20).
Strong Local Infrastructure Requires Strong Federal Investment
On Long Island, our infrastructure challenges require improvements and investments in projects that can provide additional capacity to heavily traveled transportation corridors and vitalize the efficiency of the region’s transportation system. The Coronavirus pandemic has created an urgency to invest in much-needed infrastructure. The uncertain access to financial markets and the lack of borrowing in 2020 have constrained Nassau County's 2021-2024 Capital Plan (21). Large scale infrastructure improvements were re-sequenced to late 2021 with the expectation of reduced funding.
Twelve Priority Projects
Nassau County Executive Laura Curran along with labor leaders have called for a $583 million federal infrastructure stimulus to advance twelve priority projects. These projects would create more than 3,000 full-time construction jobs and generate more than $400 million in economic activity (22). A federal infrastructure stimulus will, over the long run, provide the productivity boost needed to help get the improvements and expansions back on track.
One of the 12 priority projects is the Nassau Hub Innovation District. The project aims to transform the near 70-acres of barren parking lots surrounding the Nassau Coliseum into a new vibrant, walkable, mixed-use downtown. The Nassau Hub project is proposed to link critical activity centers that are currently underserved and disjointed to foster economic growth. According to Long Island Index, the Nassau Hub Innovation District can generate $3.4 billion in economic activity to the State, $47 million in tax revenue to the County, and over 14,000 new employments at average annual earnings of $65,000 (23).
How Infrastructure Investments Can Contribute to Nassau County's Economic Future
Infrastructure is the foundational backbone of the nation's economy, as it underpins economic activity and catalyzes growth and development. With local governments experiencing significant financial impact from COVID-19, an economic recovery that helps real people will make a real difference and lead to a more sustainable recovery for the County government's finances.
Now is the time for our partners at the federal level to act in a way that will facilitate both short-term recovery and long-term growth through innovative policies:
- Invest and Expand Public Transportation
- Support Green Infrastructure for Sustainability Transitions
- Advance Clean Transportation and Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure to Combat Climate Change
1. Congestion Relief and Gateways into Sustainability: Invest and Expand Public Transportation
Despite being home to the largest commuter rail network in the nation, it is nearly impossible to travel anywhere without a car in Nassau County. The LIRR still lacks a true North/South corridor. Roads and parkways that were built for leisurely travel to beaches and State parks are now vital traffic arteries often jam-packed at rush hour.
Public transit is essential to an economically vibrant region. Accessible and affordable transportation options have the potential to reduce congestion by providing alternatives to automobile travel, saving consumers money, increasing productivity, and spurring economic development. For example, every dollar invested in public transportation generates $5 in economic returns and every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates approximately 50,000 jobs. Every $10 million capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased business sales (24).
Public transportation, such as the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems, can help alleviate congestion and provide environmental benefit by reducing greenhouse gases. Bus Rapid Transit includes running buses in dedicated lanes to bypass heavy traffic, triggering traffic signals, and providing pre-board fare payment. Bus-only lanes are a low-cost solution that use the capacity of existing corridors and provide immediate benefits to fixed route buses (25).
More importantly, during the economic recovery following the 2008 recession, existing Bus Rapid Transit station areas across the nation saw the largest positive shift in the share of upper-wage jobs, and employment in the manufacturing sector increased, according to the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (26).
To meet the need of accessible and affordable public transportation options, federal funding is critical in expanding bus service and supporting the redevelopment plan of the Nassau Hub Innovation District.
The Innovation District redevelopment aims to establish the Bus Rapid Transit connecting the Coliseum site to the Mineola LIRR Station by transforming unused LIRR rights-of-way into a dedicated busway (27). Nassau County would be seeking $20 million in funds for the three pedestrian bridges and a further $10 to $20 million fund to create a bus rapid transit system.
With the expansion and coordination of bus service to new residential, commercial, and mixed-use developments, Nassau can generate economic growth and increase tax revenue. A 2012 study on the economic impacts of NICE bus service in Nassau County found that spending on bus services accounted for approximately 1,490 jobs and $191.5 million in economic output – more than $73 in economic activity for every dollar directly contributed by the County toward the cost of bus operations (28).
Case Study - Indianapolis, Indiana
In Indianapolis, Indiana, IndyGo’s Red Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line travels through the center of Marion County, connecting universities, job centers, downtown, residential neighborhoods, and a major medical center.
Areas within a half-mile of Bus Rapid Transit corridors increased their share of new office space by one-third within seven years, and new multifamily apartment construction doubled in those half-mile areas. Higher-wage job growth occurred near Bus Rapid Transit stations than occurred in central counties, and approximately 170,000 employees work within walking distance of Indianapolis’ bus rapid transit service – one out of every five employees in the region (29).
2. Support Green Infrastructure for Sustainability Transitions
While public infrastructure renewal is fundamental to strengthen economic competitiveness, they also present Nassau County the opportunity to provide cleaner alternatives, enhance community resiliency, and mitigate climate change. The economic benefits of green infrastructure investment create long-term competitiveness, productivity, innovation, lower prices, and higher incomes.
Green streets, a form of sustainable road design, integrate stormwater control and management within the right-of-way while preserving the primary function of a street as a conduit for vehicles, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders (30). Permeable pavements, bioswales, and rain gardens are examples of green street practices. These features are often placed along sidewalks, bike lanes, vehicle lanes, and road shoulders. The presence of green street infrastructure would be an asset to residents and businesses because economic performance is tied to the comfort and attractiveness of streets.
Case Study - Tucson, Arizona
The City of Tucson, Arizona, established a green streets policy that requires all publicly funded road construction and reconstruction projects to incorporate green infrastructure that infiltrates storm water runoff and recycles rainwater for irrigation of urban greenery (31). Green infrastructure is required to capture at least a half-inch of water that falls within the public right of way to grow vegetation.
According to a study by Watershed Management Group, the implementation of green street policy in the city of Tucson would result in over $2.5 million of annual community benefits as a result of flood reductions, water conservation, property value increases, improved storm water quality, and air quality improvements over the next 25 years (32).
Thus far, the City of Tucson has completed two major projects, identifying a green street cost-to-benefit ratio of 2.1. Net benefits of green street features are annualized over 10 years are $82,270 per year (33). Benefit-cost ratios will only improve with new development since little to no additional cost is required to design and implement green street infrastructure.
Not Just Roads: Green Goes Further
Green infrastructure provides natural stormwater management, reduces energy usage, improves water quality, reduces future costs of stormwater management, and increases property values.
In combined sewer areas, green infrastructure helps reduce combined sewer overflows. In areas with a separate storm sewer system, green infrastructure keeps pollutants from washing into our waterways and improves overall water quality.
Vacant parking lots and existing parking areas that need reconstruction are opportunities to create greener parking lots and safe pedestrian connections that could enhance a community. Green parking lots often feature permeable pavement, vegetated areas within their perimeter, bioretention areas, and shade trees that can help reduce the urban heat island effect and retain runoff from small storms (34).
More importantly, designs should promote smart growth development while also supporting the parking needs of a population. When rebuilding parking lots, local governments can encourage developers to incorporate features that reduce automobile reliance, such as bicycle racks and close proximity to public transportation.
Case Study - Bellingham, Washington
The City of Bellingham in Washington State built an innovative rain garden at the heavily used Bloedel Donovan Park parking lot. Rain gardens are simple bioretention areas that collect and filter stormwater. The parking lot's rain garden supports runoff from 80 parking spaces and two parking lanes. In contrast to a conventional stormwater technique, the rain garden saved almost $40,000 in installment costs, and approximately 80% of total runoff is captured by the rain garden (35).
Green roofs consist of a vegetative layer that grows in specially engineered soil over a waterproof membrane. They significantly reduce the amount of rainwater, build energy usage and noise levels, and increase the durability and lifespan of the roof as compared to conventional roofs. The growth of the green roof market also generates job opportunities in design, manufacturing, installation, plant growth, and maintenance. According to American Rivers, a $10 billion investment could create 190,000 jobs by building 48.5 billion-square-feet of green roof area (36).
The Center for Green Roof Research finds that green roofs captured up to 80% of rainfall during rainstorms, compared to 24% typical for standard roofs (37). Green roofs also require less maintenance by protecting roofing materials from direct ultraviolet radiation, saving the owner money in replacement costs over the long-term life of the roofing system.
Case Study - Washington, D.C.
The Department of General Services (DGS) in Washington, D.C. launched a comprehensive roof asset management program on the entire D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) roof portfolio in late 2010. DGS has converted 25% of its roofs into Smart Roofs, which produced renewable energy, prevented stormwater runoff, and created hundreds of green jobs for D.C. residents (38).
Case Study - Chicago, Illinois
Chicago, Illinois, has been a leader in promoting urban green roofs due to the combined sewer overflow challenge in the region. The 20,000 square foot roof atop City Hall has helped decrease stormwater runoff and improved urban air quality by reducing the urban heat island effect around the site.
Since its completion in 2001, the green roof has saved the city $5,000 a year in energy costs, a roof surface temperature reduction of 70 degrees, and an air temperature reduction of 15 degrees (39). To date, Chicago has over 400 green roof projects in various stages of development, with seven million square feet of green roofs constructed or underway.
3. Advance Clean Transportation and Charging Infrastructure to Combat Climate Change
The majority of commuters rely on cars to take them across the County. In fact, 65% of residents drive to work alone in 2019 (40). This dependency comes at a cost in terms of health challenges, air pollution, and high greenhouse gas emissions. Approximately 28% of Long Island’s carbon emissions are from on-road transportation (41).
The American Lung Association found that petroleum-based transportation costs $37 billion in health expenses impacting asthma attacks, premature deaths, lost work days, and hospital visits across just 10 states (42). New York State alone hit $7.9 billion in health expenses and climate costs in 2015.
One critical strategy to reach greenhouse gas emissions goals is to aggressively move to electrify transportation. The investment and support of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure on Long Island will help reduce emissions and save residents' money. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, electric vehicle drivers pay $1.22 to drive the same distance a conventional car could go on a gallon of gasoline. While gasoline prices are currently low, petroleum prices are historically very volatile and could change substantially in the future (43).
Electric vehicles also generate new jobs for manufacturing new component parts. In 2019, the U.S. Energy and Employment Report estimated that there were more than 250,000 American workers employed in the manufacture, repair, and maintenance of electric and hybrid vehicles (44).
Clean Cars for America
Long Island is a leader in electric vehicle adoption in New York State, with 12,833 registered electric vehicles in 2019, which accounts for 30% of the state's total of 42,529. However, more EV infrastructure is needed to keep up with the growing number of electric vehicles. In New York State there is an average 0.70 electric vehicles (EV) per available Level 2 car charging Port, as compared to 42 EVs per Level 2 Port on Long Island (45). While Long Island is New York State’s largest market for electric vehicles, it is important to increase awareness of the benefits of electric vehicles and expand charging infrastructure to keep up with the growing number of electric vehicles.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer's "Clean Cars for America Climate Proposal" pushes to accelerate the transition to net-zero carbon emissions by making clean cars and charging infrastructure accessible and affordable to all families (46). This program would allow consumers to receive a substantial cash voucher to trade in their gas-powered cars and buy a US-assembled and affordable electric vehicle. Low-income families with household incomes less than or equal to 200% of the federal poverty would receive an additional $2000 rebate for new vehicles, or a 20% rebate to purchase used vehicles built prior to the program taking effect (47).
The proposal also includes $45 billion in funding to states, cities, and municipalities to build charging infrastructure to expand access for all Americans (48). State and local governments are expected to utilize the funding to provide publicly accessible charging infrastructure along city streets and public parking areas, concentrating in low income areas.
It's Time to Close the Gap
While this is just a mere introduction to the issue of infrastructure, the full story of infrastructure investment makes it even clearer: with an estimated $2 trillion just to rebuild the nation's infrastructure, it is time to start closing the infrastructure gap. Continued federal inaction will result in a deeper and costlier repair down the road.
The Coronavirus pandemic is placing enormous budgetary pressure on state and local governments, threatening deep and potentially lasting cuts to infrastructure investment. There is a need for immediate commitment of federal aid directly to local governments. National economic recovery depends on strong federal support for our cities, towns, and villages.
Nassau County has called for a $583 million federal infrastructure stimulus to advance twelve priority projects. These projects help fuel the economy directly by creating jobs and recovery, and supporting Long Island's long-term economic efficiency and competitiveness.
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19. "Curran Releases Proposed 2021-2024 Capital Improvement Plan." Nassau County County Executive News, Office of the Nassau County Executive, 16 Oct. 2020, https://www.nassaucountyny.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=8540.
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22. "Curran Calls on Washington for Infrastructure Stimulus for 12 Large Scale Improvement Projects." Nassau County County Executive News, Office of the Nassau County Executive, 14 Nov. 2020, https://www.nassaucountyny.gov/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=8684.
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31. Tucson Department of Transportation, Green Street Engineering Division: Active Practices Guidelines, https://www.tucsonaz.gov/files/transportation/Green_Streets_APG_Signed_by_Director.pdf.
32. "Solving Flooding Challenges with Green Stormwater Infrastructure in the Airport Wash Area." City of Tucson, PIMA County, Watershed Management Group, 20 May 2015, https://watershedmg.org/sites/default/files/documents/solving-flooding-challenges-with-green-stormwater-infrastructure-in-tucsons-airport-wash-2015.pdf.
33. "Solving Flooding Challenges with Green Stormwater Infrastructure in the Airport Wash Area." City of Tucson, PIMA County, Watershed Management Group, 20 May 2015, https://watershedmg.org/sites/default/files/documents/solving-flooding-challenges-with-green-stormwater-infrastructure-in-tucsons-airport-wash-2015.pdf.
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38. "Success Stories: Smart Roof Program Makes Washington DC One of the Greenest City in America." Bluefin LLC, https://www.bluefinllc.com/working-with-us/success-stories/smartroof-program-makes-washington-dc-one-of-the-greenest-city-in-america/#1480368596117-38ac8c9c-3f9879b6-75956e20-bab5.
39. Nelson, Arthur C., and Joanna Ganning. "National Study of BRT Development Outcomes." University of Utah, National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC), https://t4america.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/NATIONAL-STUDY-OF-BRT-DEVELOPMENT-OUTCOMES-11-30-15.pdf.
40. "2015 Report Card for New York's Infrastructure." American Society of Civil Engineers, Sep. 2015, https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/NY_ReportCard_FullReport_9.29.15_FINAL.pdf.
41. "The State of Electric Vehicles on Long Island." Drive Electric Long Island, U.S. Green Building Council, Sep. 2019, https://usgbc-li.org/sites/default/files/documents/2019_state_of_the_evs_on_long_island.pdf.
42."Lung Association Report Highlights Health and Climate Costs of Petroleum-Based Transportation and the Benefits of Shifting to ZEVs." Green Car Congress, 27 Oct. 2016, https://www.greencarcongress.com/2016/10/20161027-lung.html.
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