New York State could put 12% of its unemployed back to work by increasing spending on highways and bridge improvements, according to a joint study conducted by two transportation advocacy groups.
In a report entitled "Rebuilding New York: Opportunities for Economic Recovery Through Road and Bridge Improvements," the Road Information Program and the Crisis Program said every $100 million state and local governments spend on highways and local roads generates 1,756 jobs and $65 million in wages.
Average unemployment in New York in the first quarter of 1992 was 8.4%, or 675,000 people, according to a spokeswoman in the state budget division.
The groups, in the report, say New York has extra money to spend for highway infrastructure improvements because of lower than expected costs for construction projects this year.
The Crisis Program, a private, not-for-profit public information group founded in 1988, focuses on New York's road and bridge funding needs. The Road Information Program is a Washington-based, not-for-profit highway transportation research group founded in 1971.
The difficult economic conditions last year reduced the demand for private construction projects, leaving state projects as one of the few options available to contractors, the groups said. This demand for work allowed New York State to obtain low bids from contractors for the construction of roads and bridges, according to the report.
The groups also say that as a result of these low prices, the state saved $250 million for the current fiscal year, which began April 1, and the 1993 fiscal year. That was because the state spent only $915 million of the $1.165 billion set aside last year for highway funding, the report says.
The report also cites the newly enacted federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, which it says will result in increased federal funding for the state's road and building projects.
The new law will increase the percent of state road and building projects paid for by the federal government, which had decreased from 17.6% in 1980 to 11.5% in 1989. This year the state received $760 million in federal funding under the act, and the funding could legally reach $6.5 billion over a five-year span.
In addition to the economic statistics, the report also details repair needs. It says 46% of the roads and 48% of the bridges in the state need capital reconstruction. The need is slightly greater in the metropolitan New York area, where 48% of the roads and 49% of the bridges require reconstruction, the report says. Repairs throughout the state would run almost $2 billion, according to the report.
The report used the New York State Department of Transportation as a source for these assessments.
The Crisis Program and the Road Information Program said the money saved should be used for further improvements on state and local roads and bridges. They argue that such investments would not only improve the state's infrastructure but employ construction workers and boost the economy.
David Murray, a spokesman for the State Department of Transportation, said the $250 million is not actually money saved but a figure derived from the anticipated cost and the actual bids that came in for 1991's highway and bridge projects.
"They are dead wrong when they say we have a $250 million surplus," Mr. Murray said. "We are spending and will spend every cent that we have."
He said the $250 million allows the state to push their planned projects ahead of schedule. However, these large scheduled projects require planning and design, meaning that they cannot be started immediately.
In the meantime, to employ more construction workers, the state is trying to generate more short-term projects. Mr. Murray said that, "Gov. Mario Cuomo and Department of Transportation Commissioner [Franklin E.] White will identify and expedite all projects which can put people back to work quickly. This will amount to at least $30 million worth of projects which can be done right away."