Comptroller Brad Lander called out the state Department of Transportation on Friday for spending hundreds of millions of federal dollars on expansion of New York City highways rather than greenways, bike paths and other measures that help fight climate change.
The $550 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act passed by Congress in 2021 pumped nearly $25 billion into New York City. More than $5 billion of that amount will be spent on roads, bridges and “major projects” according to Lander’s analysis, including $730 million on widening the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens.
“Even maintaining a state of good repair on existing roadway infrastructure would be a better use of money than widening the highway,” Lander told Gothamist.
The $1.2 billion Van Wyck project managed by the state will add a fourth lane in both directions on the 4.3-mile stretch between the Kew Gardens Interchange and JFK Airport. The project aims to save drivers eight to 15 minutes of travel time getting to the airport. But Lander argues the expansion is “quite simply at odds” with the city and state’s goals of reducing emissions and traffic congestion.
Lander recalled Robert Moses’ notorious refusal to leave space for public transit near the Van Wyck during its initial construction.
“We made exactly this mistake in 1950 and we’re now poised to make it again,” Lander said. “It’s a cruel irony.”
The comptroller’s analysis notes that more than half the state’s federal infrastructure funds will go toward public transit projects like the extension of the Second Avenue Subway expansion and the Gateway Hudson Tunnel project. But Lander argues the state should further prioritize projects that reduce emissions, improve street safety or repair existing infrastructure.
He recommended state officials establish a set of climate-friendly “performance standards” for transportation projects, similar to ones set by California, Colorado and Minnesota.
“New York state risks squandering the historic investments of the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act by directing far too much funding toward highway expansion instead of climate‐resilient, multimodal projects,” Assemblymember Emily Gallagher said in a statement.
The state Department of Transportation defended the spending on the Van Wyck project.
“The project advances New York State’s nation-leading agenda to combat climate change by reducing congestion, which reduces vehicle emissions and takes more traffic off local streets, and through the addition of a new managed-use lane that will serve high-occupancy vehicles, including occupied taxis, occupied for-hire vehicles (FHVs), and buses,” spokesperson Glenn Blain said in a statement.
This article has been updated to reflect the comptroller’s revised calculation of federal infrastructure funds for the Van Wyck Expressway project.