FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 9, 2007
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS REMARKS AT NEW YORK BUILDING CONGRESS SPECIAL CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY FORUM
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's speech as prepared.
"Thank you, Dominick, and good afternoon, everyone. Now, as some of you may know, starting today, my staff and I are based in Brooklyn. We'll be there for two weeks while some construction work at City Hall is finally completed-or at least that's what we've been promised. But these projects always seem to drag on about twice as long as they're supposed to. A contractor once told me that delays like that make the slogan 'satisfaction guaranteed' a reality - because by the time the job is finished, everyone is just deliriously happy to get it over with. I was hoping someone with the Building Congress could explain if that's always true.
"Let me tell you, this Manhattan traffic is murder! You know, somebody ought to come up with a plan to do something about it! And in fact, that's really why we're all here today. Because New York City has got a plan to end the traffic gridlock that clogs our streets, that pollutes our air, that ratchets up global warming, and that drains jobs and opportunity out of our economy. It's our proposed three-year pilot program for congestion pricing.
"What's more, we've also finally got a fair solid waste management plan-one that's economically and environmentally sustainable, and that makes each borough responsible for handling its own waste. Both of these plans are crucial to New York's future. Both of them have broad-based support across our city. And for both of them, the moment of truth is now at hand. So today, I'm asking you-and all concerned New Yorkers-to urge our State leaders to put aside their differences, to stand up for New York's future, and to make both these plans into law by next Monday.
"Let's start with our congestion pricing plan-because it would unclog the transportation bottlenecks that threaten to choke off our city's continued prosperity. No doubt about it, these are truly remarkable times for our city. Over the past five and a half years, we've reduced crime to record lows, and brought our bond rating to an all-time high. Our schools are moving forward. Graduation rates continue to rise. And last month, the math scores that our students posted were as good as those of students in many suburban school districts - an achievement that many people would have thought impossible just a few short years ago.
"And our economy is also really firing on all cylinders. Unemployment is at a nearly all-time low, and we're expecting to add another 37,000 jobs to our city in the current year alone. A combination of public and private construction is leading the way. In fact, the Building Congress estimates that the value of construction in our city will reach $21 billion both this year and next-back-to-back record levels.
"But ominously, we lag in transportation construction. This is an area where we're actually losing ground. More than half of subway stations need repairs; 40 per cent of the subway system's signals are obsolete. Commuter lines like the Long Island Rail Road are so clogged that they can't put on the extra trains they need. Unless we act, these problems are only going to grow worse-hobbling New York in our race to stay competitive with other global cities.
Because of our great economy and quality of life, New York's population-already at a record high-is expected to reach nine million people by the year 2030. That's going to mean nearly one million more New Yorkers-up to three-quarters of a million new jobs in our city-and tremendous economic opportunity across our entire region. But the economic potential of this growth will only be realized if we act wisely now in funding and building $50 billion in construction projects that our region desperately needs. And when I say 'desperately,' here's exactly what I mean:
"Eleven of our 26 subway routes already experience peak-period congestion, and three of them are at capacity - the routes in red. (I've been in that red a few times myself.) So conditions are bad enough now. But if we don't act - by 2030, the situation will be intolerable. You just have to look at all the red on this chart. By 2030, we expect that nearly every subway route - 23 of 26 - will be heavily congested. Our highways will be clogged as well.
"The bottom line: Morning and evening rush hours may well consume half of each working day. The price of congestion-in fuel costs, delayed deliveries, and lost productivity-is already $13 billion a year. That's only going to grow worse. So will the air pollution that results in children in some of our city's neighborhoods being hospitalized for asthma at close to four times the national average. For their sake-and for the future of our city-we have to act now!
"That's where our pilot program for congestion pricing comes in. It would accomplish two essential goals at the same time, in a way that no other transportation plan will. First, congestion pricing would reduce gridlock immediately. It would give commuters an economic incentive to leave their cars at home, and instead use mass transit to travel to Manhattan south of 86th Street during the weekday hours when traffic is at its worst.
"And second, congestion pricing would also provide commuters better mass transit options, both immediately and in the long-run, both throughout the city and across the region. In fact, it's the only plan out there that can come up with funds needed to finish our critical regional transportation projects, like the Second Avenue Subway, East Side Access, the Lower Manhattan Rail Link, and others.
"Congestion pricing has broad-based support. That support includes you, the members of the New York Building Congress-because you've always stood up for what's important for New York's future. Congestion pricing has also been endorsed by a broad range of civic, business, labor, and environmental groups, including: The Association for a Better New York, the Citizens Budget Commission, the General Contractors Association, the Drum Major Institute, the New York Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, West Harlem Environmental Action, the New York City Central Labor Council, The Building and Construction Trades Council, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union, the League of Conservation Voters, the Straphangers Campaign, and more than 100 other organizations across our city.
"It also has the backing of Governor Eliot Spitzer, State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno and Minority Leader Malcolm Smith, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, and a growing list of Federal, State, and City elected officials from throughout the five boroughs.
"Congestion pricing is also backed by the editorial pages of the Times, the Post, and the Daily News-the kind of trifecta you hit once in a blue moon. It all goes to show that congestion pricing is an idea whose time has truly come.
"And the time for action on congestion pricing is at hand. Because now we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to obtain the major Federal funding that will help make congestion pricing a reality. Four weeks ago, Federal Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was in our city to express support for our congestion pricing proposal. And she said that New York City stands to receive up to $500 million in grant funds from her agency to cover the program's start-up costs-including immediate service improvements. That half a billion dollars in Federal money is available this fiscal year, and this year only.
"And our window of opportunity for receiving it will close one week from today-on July 16th. That's the deadline that Federal officials have set for receiving assurance that the State is giving New York City the go-ahead we need to institute our pilot congestion pricing program.
"Now, if the Legislature and Governor approve congestion pricing by next Monday-as I believe they will-here's what we stand to gain. In preparing our congestion pricing plan, we studied commuting patterns throughout the city. And we discovered that only about five per cent of all New York City commuters who live outside Manhattan rely on autos to get into Manhattan. Nevertheless, clearly there are communities where a lack of accessible mass transit makes driving-even with all the headaches it produces-seem like the best alternative. So as part of our plan, we've already identified at least 22 city neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of drivers going to Manhattan.
"And we're working with the MTA to come up with ways to improve bus and service in these areas. We're exploring the possibility of better ferry service, too. In many cases, what we're talking about doing in these neighborhoods are fairly simple steps, like establishing bus priority lanes on some major thoroughfares, and improving transfer connections between buses and subways. Working with the MTA and using those Federal transportation funds, we can turn those kinds of ideas into realities within the next 18 months.
"The result will be faster and more comfortable daily commutes for thousands of New Yorkers. Even before congestion pricing takes effect, that's going to give drivers good reasons to leave their cars at home on workdays. And it will help make congestion pricing run more smoothly when the pilot program begins.
"On the other hand, if there's no State action by next Monday, there will be no Federal funding for these immediate, gridlock-easing projects. That's going to be bad news for New Yorkers-bad now, and bad for many years to come. I can't imagine any of you believe that leaving half a billion dollars in Federal money on the table is a good idea. But if the clock ticks down over the next week with no action in Albany, that's exactly what will happen. Failing to act now is also ultimately going to make it harder, and more expensive, to pay for and build the major transportation improvements that the New York City metropolitan area needs.
"Take a look at this list of 18 regional transportation projects. They include the Lower Manhattan Rail Link to Jamaica, the East Side Access Project, the full-length Second Avenue Subway, and others. All 18 of the projects on this list are essential to our region's future. There's just one catch: They will cost $50 billion to finish-and collectively, there's now a $31 billion gap in those funds.
"Does that sound familiar? It should-and as they say, one picture is worth a thousand words. So here's the picture; it shows the ground-breaking for the Second Avenue Subway. The date: 1972. And shortly after this photo op, work on that project came to a halt. Why? Because there was no dedicated source of revenue to see it through to completion. And do you know what? There still isn't.
"Because even today, with work finally started again on Phase One of the Second Avenue Subway-the leg running from 96th to 63rd Street-funding for the project is still almost $1 billion short of what's needed to finish it. That's real money. And how is the MTA going to pay for Phase Two, which would take the line up to 125th Street, and which has a current price tag of $1.7 billion? No one knows.
"So is it going to be 'déjà vu all over again?' Is history going to repeat itself, not just on Second Avenue, but for all of our essential transportation projects? How many people know, for example, that the Number 7 line, which now ends at Main Street in Flushing, was originally supposed to run all the way to Bayside and Whitestone? Or that there have been plans to run a subway line to Southeast Queens since Moses was a little boy-and I don't mean Robert Moses, I mean Moses Moses!
"And let's not leave Brooklyn out of the story: Did you know that the Number 2 subway that today ends at Flatbush Avenue was actually supposed to keep going all the way to Marine Park? Time and again, politicians have been willing to put these and other important projects on the chopping block. It's in our power to say, 'No we're not going to stall out again-not if we enact congestion pricing!
"By bonding congestion pricing revenues-along with funds from the City and State budgets-we can finance the projects we need. Only congestion pricing will pay for these projects fairly, efficiently, and quickly. And the result will be this: Instead of a New York choking on traffic, we'll be a healthy and growing city, once again on the move. That's what's at stake over the next few days. Time is running out. And that's why it's crucial that you call and write our State leaders and urge them to go back to Albany, and to approve congestion pricing now.
"While you're doing that, send them this message, too: Let's finally put in place a fair, sustainable solid waste management plan for all New Yorkers. A year ago this month, the City Council overwhelmingly approved just such a plan-one that had been years in the making. It establishes the principle that each borough should be responsible for its own waste. It would put an end to nearly six million miles a year in trips by Sanitation trucks and diesel-burning long-haul trailers.
"Instead, the City is poised to create a far more efficient and economically viable system of transporting residential and commercial waste and recyclables by barge and rail. To put that system into effect, we need the State Assembly to approve an amendment to the Hudson River Park Act, so that we can re-activate a recycling marine transfer station on Gansevoort Peninsula on Manhattan's Hudson River waterfront. The State Senate already overwhelmingly approved that amendment last month, by a vote of 53-8.
"This isn't a neighborhood issue; it's a citywide issue. The City Council proved that last month, when by a vote of 48-3, it passed a Home Rule message in favor of reopening the Gansevoort MTS. By pushing for reopening the Gansevoort MTS, Council Speaker Christine Quinn-whose district includes the Gansevoort site-has shown that local elected leaders can put City interests first. And because it would take polluting trucks out of Northern Manhattan and the Bronx-communities with some of the highest rates of asthma in the city-reopening the Gansevoort MTS would show a strong State commitment to environmental justice for the people of our city.
"So it's crucial that Albany knows how much this matters to our city's future. That's why your voices need to be heard. Speak up now, and tell our State Assembly leaders to approve the fair solid waste management plan that New Yorkers deserve.
"Now, in closing, I want to leave you with this thought: Over the weekend, hundreds of millions of people around the globe watched the Live Earth concerts, and renewed their commitments to protecting our world, and leaving it a better place for our children and grandchildren. That's going to take action at the personal level-and also the political level. We can't wait for leadership from Washington; we've got to face our responsibilities, here and now in New York City.
"To keep New York growing-to keep our economy strong and our environment healthy-we need to act now to maintain and expand our vital infrastructure, to take the poisons out of the air our children breathe, and to ensure that our city's best days are truly still to come.
"That's what congestion pricing will accomplish. That's what our solid waste management plan is all about. That's why we need your help in making them realities. The time for action is now. It's time for each of you to demand action from Albany - now!
"This is about creating jobs in the construction trades and the building industry, now and for decades to come. It's about fully funding the transportation projects that will promote economic investment throughout the metropolitan area. It's about giving our city, and our children, the future that they deserve. It's in our power to truly make New York a greener, greater city-the first major sustainable city on the planet.
"Let that be our legacy. Each of us has to do our part.
"So I urge you-call your Assembly members. Tell them we need this. We need the jobs. We need cleaner air. Do it today!
"Thank you, and God bless you all."
Stu Loeser/John Gallagher (212) 788-2958
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