$100 Million in BRT Funding at Stake in Albany Budget Negotiations

There’s $100 million for Bus Rapid Transit in the Assembly’s budget proposal, and advocates are working to ensure the funds emerge intact from closed-door negotiations with Governor Cuomo and the State Senate.

Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr
Will Governor Cuomo and the State Senate agree to include $100 million for BRT in the state budget? Photo: NYC DOT/Flickr

The New York League of Conservation Voters, which has joined with Staten Island business interests to advocate for North Shore BRT, is asking supporters to contact lawmakers. The funding stream is also supported by TWU Local 100, which took out a full page ad in City & State backing BRT funding [PDF].

The North Shore plan, which was not included in the MTA capital program, is one of many projects that could benefit from dedicated BRT funds. In a press release, the Assembly said BRT funds would go toward “projects in Staten Island, the Bronx and Brooklyn” — though the budget bill itself doesn’t specify what those projects are.

The funding could also support BRT elsewhere in the state. Albany’s first BusPlus route has proven popular, and the region has a plan for 40 miles of BRT. Suffolk County has been planning BRT routes, and Westchester County has proposed BRT on Central Avenue, which is linked to the bus network planned as part of the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement.

How much BRT could be purchased with $100 million? A typical Select Bus Service project with painted bus lanes, bus bulbs, and off-board fare collection costs about $2-3 million per mile. More intensive street redesign and reconstruction can cost more: The 14-mile Woodhaven Boulevard route, for example, is anticipated to cost $200 million, or about $14 million per mile.

Much of the action behind the $100 million program, which was not included in the governor’s budget proposal, is driven by the Staten Island delegation. Led in the Assembly by Democrats Michael Cusick and Matthew Titone, elected officials there have taken up the cause of funding North Shore BRT.

Staten Island’s State Senate delegation, which has also backed the BRT funding program, enjoys a partisan advantage: Andrew Lanza is in the Republican majority and Diane Savino is a member of the junior-partner Independent Democratic Caucus. (IDC Leader Jeff Klein has been included in budget negotiations.)

“They’ve been showing a lot of leadership on this issue,” Ya-Ting Liu, NYLCV’s NYC Sustainability Director, said of Lanza and Savino, “and they’re going to do everything they can do continue to advocate with their colleagues on the Senate side.”

The funds could also support bicycle and pedestrian upgrades along BRT routes. The Assembly bill says the money must be used for BRT “infrastructure, rolling stock, and other related transportation needs,” which could include improvements for biking and walking.

“Now is the time that everything goes behind closed doors and it’s hard to tell what has legs and what doesn’t have legs,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “It might not be dead… I think we should all be excited.”

The deadline for an on-time budget is March 31.