In mid-January 2016, some northern Troy streets suddenly became riverbeds.
“Fifth Ave. was an actual creek,” City Council President Carmella Mantello said of the aftermath of a water main break that gushed 10 million gallons of water — more than half the city’s daily water flow — onto the streets.
Though water and sewer infrastructure is far from a sexy subject, the Troy water main break, like dozens of other breaks across the region each year, is an indication of the havoc local officials struggle financially to stave off and fix.
So on Thursday, Mantello and other Capital Region municipal officials rallied at the Capitol for legislation sponsored by state Sen. Jim Tedisco, R-Glenville, and Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, that would establish what they say is an equitable state funding mechanism for water infrastructure projects.
Similar legislation was introduced but failed to gain traction last year.
“That’s a lurking monster right now,” Tedisco said of aging infrastructure. “We can pay now, or we can pay later.”
While the subject matter of the bill is thick, the idea is simple: Provide a dedicated, recurring pot of funding for local water projects distributed by a formula based on water infrastructure size.
The pot, dubbed SWAP (Safe Water Infrastructure Action Program), is modeled on the so-called CHIPS program, which provides similar formula-based funding for local road projects.
If SWAP were to be inserted into this year’s state budget, the funding would be $438.1 million statewide, the same as CHIPS.
There’s little doubt that would be just a drop in the bucket of monetary need for infrastructure. State officials estimate that water infrastructure needs statewide over the next 20 years will hit $80 billion.
The Troy water main break cost the city $73,000 to fix. A springtime replacement project for roughly a mile’s worth of transmission line will be covered by $3.5 million worth of grants and a low-interest loan from the state, according to the city.
While infrastructure costs are chunky in general, it’s emergency repairs that can be most painful on the wallet. Colonie Town Supervisor Paula Mahan said at Thursday’s press conference that emergency sewer line repairs cost roughly $1,300 per foot. A planned replacement runs roughly $85 per foot.
Tedisco and Steck aren’t the only ones proposing much-needed state funding. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $2 billion over five years for local water infrastructure projects. That grant program would go toward drinking water and wastewater infrastructure and source water protection projects.
It’s early yet to say if SWAP will be central to budget negotiations among Cuomo and leaders of the Senate and Assembly. Tedisco said Senate Republican Majority Leader John Flanagan is open to the proposal. Steck said he will advocate for the bill when Assembly Majority Democrats further discuss the budget in the coming month.
Video from Thursday’s press conference, courtesy of NYSNYS.com’s Kyle Hughes, is below: