New York State is holding a global competition to find the best ideas to re-imagine the New York State Canal System so it becomes an engine for economic growth upstate as well as a world-class tourist destination. The competition, run by the New York Power Authority and New York State Canal Corporation, is awarding up to $2.5 million to develop and implement the winning ideas.
“The Canal System is a vital part of New York’s storied past and it is critical that it continues to be an essential component of our state’s future,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said. “We’re looking for bold and innovative ideas that ensure the canal system and its surrounding communities can grow and prosper and with this competition, we encourage bright minds from across the globe to contribute their best ideas to help bring this piece of history to new heights.”
“Originally labeled Clinton’s Folly, the Erie Canal went on to become one of the most significant transportation milestones in our history, putting Upstate NY on the path to a century of prosperity,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “It is fitting that now, as we celebrate its bicentennial, we re-imagine how this iconic Canal can once again become an engine for economic growth across New York State.”
The competition was announced as New York continues the celebration of the bicentennial of the beginning of construction on the Erie Canal, in Rome, N.Y., on July 4, 1817. Next year, the State will mark the centennial of the 524-mile state Canal System, which includes the Erie, Champlain, Cayuga-Seneca and Oswego canals.
“There are many people in the public and private sector who are passionate about the canals,” said Gil C. Quiniones, president and CEO of the New York Power Authority, which operates the state Canal System as a subsidiary. “We want to translate that passion into sustainable projects that will make the canal corridor bigger and better.”
Quiniones unveiled the competition today at the World Canals Conference in Syracuse, where hundreds of canal experts and enthusiasts from three continents are meeting this week.
“The building of the Erie Canal took persistence, vision and overcoming deep skepticism, but its construction transformed this nation,” Brian U. Stratton, New York State Canal Corporation director said. “Now, we want to transform the canals so they become go-to travel and recreation destinations. The entries can come from anywhere. Good ideas have no boundaries.”
The goals of the competition include soliciting programs and initiatives that promote:
The Canal System and its trails as a tourist destination and recreational asset for New York residents and visitors;
Sustainable economic development along the Canal System;
The Canal System’s heritage; and
The long-term financial sustainability of the Canal Corporation
The competition will seek entries on two separate tracks, one for infrastructure; the other for programs that have the potential to increase recreation use and tourism.
In the first round, entrants will provide information about how their proposal meets core competition goals and outlines the applicant’s qualifications. Finalists will each receive $50,000 to implement their ideas for the second round, where they will partner with either a municipality along the Canal System or a non-profit engaged in canal-related work. A panel of judges will select two or more winners to receive between $250,000 and $1.5 million to plan their projects and implement them.
Submissions for the first round are due Dec. 4. The final winners will be announced next spring.
Considering all that Governor Andrew Cuomo has been doing to update, upgrade, modernize New York’s infrastructure – including the Long Island Rail Road, a $32 billion rebuilding project for LaGuardia Airport, JF Kennedy Airport, the Gateway Tunnel and the Tappan Zee Bridge – it is shocking, really, to hear Cuomo’s approval ratings have slumped in recent weeks, largely because of the very problems he is working to fix: the MTA and LIRR. There is massive work going on this summer and people are inconvenienced; Cuomo even declared a state of emergency for New York City subways. But at least he is doing something.
Part of the reason you get the uptick in disapproval is the way pollsters ask questions. I can certainly understand commuters’ distress at the disruptions this summer – some caused precisely because the system is so old and failing and needs to be replaced and some because they are working to replace the system – but quite another to blame Cuomo, rather than appreciate that at least, after decades of governors kicking cans down a road, is doing something about it – in fact, New York State is undertaking the most ambitious infrastructure project in the nation. And it goes along with a transition – as much as possible – to climate sustainability and clean, renewable energy.
But, in contrast to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who nixed the Hudson tunnel when he came to office as a slap-in-the-face to President Obama (and now the Trump Administration is likely to defund the Gateway project) and shut down the George Washington Bridge for 4 days to spite a Democratic mayor (and still was overwhelmingly reelected), Cuomo has implemented an ambitious infrastructure plan, on par with the bold visionary transformation of Governor DeWitt Clinton (Erie Canal), Governor Theodore Roosevelt (Barge Canal), and Governor Franklin Roosevelt (St. Lawrence Seaway). Indeed, New York is undergoing a $100 billion building program, the largest infrastructure revitalization programs in the nation.
This week, after 70 years of stagnation, Cuomo announced “historic” $5.6 billion transformation of the Long Island Rail Road – 100 transformative LIRR capital projects including the Main Line Third Track, Double Track, Jamaica Station Reconstruction, 39 renovated Long Island Rail Road stations, including Great Neck and Port Washington, plus the new Penn-Farley Complex and $1.6 billion Moynihan Train Hall. Additionally, East Side Access project will create the first direct LIRR service to the east side and increase capacity.
“With the complete transformation of the Long Island Railroad, New York is recapturing the bold ambition that made our infrastructure the envy of the nation and building for the future. The LIRR is the backbone of the region’s economy, and the strength and resiliency of Long Island requires bold, transformative investments to bolster our transportation network,” Governor Cuomo said. “From the previously unthinkable Third Track and Second Track projects to state-of-the-art technology and signal upgrades, we are daring to imagine better and delivering for the people of New York once again.”
And Cuomo has accepted the state’s responsibility in fixing the MTA, pledging support for the MTA NYC Subway Action Plan.
“The MTA is in crisis and hard-working New Yorkers deserve better. The plan outlined by Chairman Lhota is substantive and realistic. “I am fully committed to making it a reality. I accept the 50/50 split of funds, and the state will do its part. Government is about making a positive difference in people’s lives. As a lifelong New Yorker, I know how essential the subway service is to people’s day to day lives. I am all about getting results. Now is not the time for pointing fingers, but for moving forward – together as New Yorkers.”
Cuomo also stated, “Last week, we had a successful resolution to expand the Long Island Rail Road after 50 years of delay. Today Chairman Lhota laid out a comprehensive plan to transform the New York City transit system. Tomorrow, I will go to Washington to meet with Secretary Chao to discuss what may be the most important transportation project in the region – the Gateway Tunnel. The Gateway Tunnel is critical for rail traffic entering New York and the entire Northeast. It is essential that this project, which has been delayed for years, goes forward. I will also brief the New York Delegation on the situation.”
The state is also fortifying an additional 12 bridges (including $16.5 million to rehabilitate Long Island bridges) and replacing and upgrading 13 electric power substations.
The Port Authority is in the midst of a $32 billion, 10-year capital plan to redevelop LaGuardia and JF Kennedy airports and construct a LaGuardia AirTran.
There is also $112.2 million in funding for 81 projects that support bicycle and pedestrian enhancements and improve air quality across New York, including $2.2 million for Long Island projects in Brookhaven, Glen Cove and Amityville, and $200 million allocated to create the 750-mile long Empire State Trail Network.
It’s not just the transportation infrastructure, but the power system (not to mention initiatives to incentivize clean, renewable energy systems to replace fossil fuel, including electric car power stations along the thruway and offshore windpower, and expanding solar power) – in order to meet the Clean Energy Standard mandating 50% of the state’s electricity come from renewable energy sources by 2030.
The New York State Environmental Facilities Corporation Board of Directors approved nearly $60 million in grants and interest-free and low-cost loans to support vital drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects across the state.
Yet, despite all that is going on, Cuomo’s approval ratings have slumped.
It’s really disheartening – it is why politicians rarely take bold initiatives, but rather pander or play to an image rather than getting things done. Most people have such a superficial, hollow understanding of what is going on – it’s why Republicans were able to perpetuate such hatred for Obama throughout his administration, stoking discontent rather than people appreciating the actual improvements in their lives – foreclosures stopped, job losses stemmed, bankruptcies slowed. Instead, massive construction was underway thanks to infrastructure spending; teachers, police and firefighters kept their jobs, General Motors didn’t fold, paid apprenticeships expanded. But did Americans’ praise Obama? Absolutely not. Republicans kept up the fiction that Obama did not create “a single job,” that Obamacare and climate actions were “job-killing”, despite record number of months of consecutive job increases and unemployment rates falling to a level effectively called “full employment”. even through the 2012 reelection campaign. Trump was able to convince white working class people they were “forgotten” and only Trump could save them.
In the same vein, Republicans were able to stoked hatred for Obamacare before it was implemented, and even after people were actually loving KYnect, Kentucky’s Obamacare health exchange. It’s one thing to hold a governor or mayor or president to task for ignoring problems or undertaking policies that exacerbate them. And it’s why the Russia/Trump propaganda campaign could be so effective. Sheeple.
#SummerofHell is more than about discomfort or discontentment about commuting. It goes to the heart of why politicians are unwilling to be bold, how easily it is to rabble-rouse a crowd. It is why those “forgotten” white working class were so easily incited in hatred and anger against Obama, to fail to appreciate that their situations were in fact improving (people weren’t losing jobs or homes or retirement savings, they had access to health care) and connived into following Trump, easily the most corrupt, inept, self-serving ignoramus to hold such power (“Leader of the Free World”) in the history of the world, including Nero.
And you know how people always say that candidates need a positive vision? Well the Trumpers have offered nothing but the bleakest dystopia, winning support by engendering fear and insecurity, notably based on fabrications on such vital issues as climate change, immigration, health care, trade, national security. Even now, Trump says he would rather Obamacare fail (which means that millions would lose healthcare and tens of thousands would die unnecessarily each year) rather than Republicans fail to replace it.
In answer the question, “How did we get here?”, Michael Hadjiargyrou of Centerport wrote to the New York Times, “The answer is simple: a politically apathetic and historically uninformed citizenry, blindly led by a populist salesman, who pulled the lever in his favor. Until a majority of Americans pay closer attention to politics, we are doomed to these kind of outcomes.”
My return visit to Pittsburgh for my second Rails-to-Trails Conservancy Sojourn bike tour on the Great Allegheny Passage reaffirmed for me the stupidity of Donald Trump’s justification for abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement, that he was elected by the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris, and that what Pittsburghers want more than anything is to roll back time a century to the days when coal was king and steel mills were belching putrid smoke and men died prematurely in horrid working conditions, their lives under the thumb of Robber Barons who controlled industry and politics. Indeed, the people of Pittsburgh voted 75% for Hillary Clinton’s agenda and vision of America’s future.
But Trump’s entire agenda, beginning with a budget that would similarly reverse course on the very infrastructure and technology developments that would insure America’s leadership in the 21st century, rather than put us back a century.
We get a glimpse of what that is like on the outskirts of the city, in Clairton, where a huge mound of coal dwarfs a tractor truck, and across the bridge over the rail lines, is a chemical plant emitting a foul smell that penetrates the modest residential neighborhood across the street.
The city of Pittsburgh, itself, has risen anew, with glistening office towers and a new economy based on finance, health care, academics, robotics and technology. Its waterfront, once dominated by dirty industrial plants, is now a gorgeous bike path, which you can see so spectacularly from Mount Washington, the place from which George Washington surveyed to find a location to put a fort to protect British colonial interests, but from which in those bad ol’ days, the city would have been shrouded in haze.
Outside the city, where we start our bike tour near the beginning of the 150-mile long multi-purpose railtrail, in the state which built its economy on oil, coal and gas, there are windmills on the hilltops and solar farms in fields. Where we camp one night, in Confluence below the Youghiogheny River Reservoir dam built in 1944 to control flooding, the outflow has been tapped for hydroelectric power.
The biketrail – representing 150 of some 23,000 miles of similarly repurposed railtrails across the country – is a new lifeline for small towns like Meyersdale, which once supported six hotels, an elementary school and a high school, now all shuttered, and Dunbar, once a center for glassmaking and coal production. In Confluence, where the population today is 700, we add 200 to that roll during our stay.
The Trump agenda – and his budget to back it up – would cancel out the line for funding such repurposing projects that has existed since 1991, while eliminating incentives that helped jumpstart America’s fledgling clean, renewable energy industry where jobs are growing at a rate 12 times faster than the rest of the economy. The 374,000 now employed in solar eclipse the 74,000 people working as coal miners, indeed, exceed all the workers in oil, gas and coal combined; while wind energy employed 100,000. Worldwide – and places like Europe which are legions ahead of the US in wind and solar – some 10 million people are employed in clean renewable energy jobs.
At the same time, the Trump Administration – EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke – are sloping the playing field back in favor of climate-destroying fossil fuel industry, rolling back regulations that would allow coal mining companies to pollute water, removing protections on drilling and mining on federal lands, opening up exports of natural gas and oil, creating financial incentives for new nuclear plants, and ending tax credits for renewable energy, among a long, long list. Trump wants to really stick it to climate activists.
Trump’s promise to invest $1 trillion in America’s aging, decaying and obsolete infrastructure is also a sham – as evidenced by his Transportation director exiting the New York-New Jersey Hudson Gateway Tunnel project, and a budget that would rescind funding to rebuild the century-old tunnel.
One contrasts this myopia from the guy who boasted of being a “builder” with the bicentennial of the building of the Erie Canal, in 1817, a bold vision and engineering marvel, which quite literally made New York City the financial capital of the world by connecting the port of New York to the Midwest’s resources and markets with Europe. Even then, globalization, not isolation, is what made the United States a world power.
It’s not just the belching, choking pollution that Trump would like to go back to. In climate policy, energy policy, health care, tax reform, and now infrastructure, Trump envisions exacerbating the divide between rich and poor – and therefore political power as campaign finance and special interests increasingly determine who gets the “ear” in policy. His budget affirms his bias against transitioning away from a climate-destroying carbon energy economy in favor of clean, renewable, decentralized (and cheaper, less monopolistic) energy. His regulatory policy reverses the incentives as well as the progress. The Republican health care policy is as much a mechanism to cement power in the hands of the “haves” versus the have-nots – who are unlikely to challenge abusive employers if they are afraid of losing their health insurance; unable to join protest marches and rallies if they are in pain or suffering; and unable to have their concerns acted on by lawmakers if they don’t have the funds to contribute to campaigns.
Infrastructure, energy policy, the environment, technological innovation and prospects for economic growth, prosperity, social mobility and yes, political power are all connected. Climate justice, social justice, economic justice, political justice are all intertwined.
Trump would have us go back a century or two and cost the United States its global leadership.