ALBANY: John Poorman, Executive Director of the Capital
District Regional Planning Commission spoke at the July
SPB vegetarian/vegan lasagna dinner.
Mr. Poorman began by describing what the Capital District
Regional Planning Commission (CDTC) is. The CDTC is the
designated “Metropolitan Planning Organization” (MPO)
for four counties, Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga and Schenectady.
Under federal law, the CDTC’s responsibilities are
to provide a forum to discuss transportation needs and
develop transportation plans in the context of social,
economic and environmental considerations. Federal highway
and transit funds cannot be spent in the Capital District
on any project that does not derive from CDTC’s long-range
transportation plan and short-range Transportation Improvement
Program (TIP). In short, the CDTC is essential to the approval
of transportation projects involving federal funds.
CDTC’s members include a broad roster of important
decision makers in the Capital District. The permanent
members include the chief elected officials from the four
counties, the region’s eight cities, and the Town
of Colonie. Rotating members are from other towns and villages.
Other permanent members are the NYS Department of Transportation
(NYSDOT), Capital District Regional Planning Commission,
Capital District Transportation Authority, Albany County
Airport Authority, Albany Port District Commission and
NYS Thruway Authority.
Mr. Poorman explained that the Commission operates solely
by consensus. He observed “the cynics would say that
the only way we reach unanimous consent is to find the
lowest common denominator.” Mr. Poorman prefers to
think the CDTC’s process emphasizes the need for
objectivity and operates on established principles.
The CDTC experienced a watershed event in the mid-1990s
when the New Visions Regional Transportation Plan was written.
The Plan is crafted around 25 adopted principles, articulating
very clearly the role of transportation in shaping the
economy, of the need to use transportation to enhance our
assets for economic development, sustainabilty, revitalization
of urban centers, and making sure suburban areas grow into
something and not just into nothing. Building walkable
and bikable communities are important principles. When
specific plans are implemented these are the principles
that come into play. CDTC priorities for transportation
funds are crafted around principles and budgets that seek
to create a better balance.
As evidence of the principles being used to evaluate
projects, over the last seven years of the New Visions
Plan, Mr. Poorman noted that CDTC funded approximately
30 separate bicycle and pedestrian projects around the
Capital District but no new highway projects in the same
period in order to create a better balance.
Mr. Poorman said, “It is important for you to have
a sense whether the decisions that are made around our
table have any clout or not.” Mr. Poorman then explained
how the process at CDTC works. The CDTC is a creature of
federal law which, in this case, supersedes state law.
NYS has no statutory capability or clout for regional government
or metropolitan planning. However, if anyone in the Capital
District wants to use one penny of federal transit or highway
funds (and these funds are pretty flexible, and can be
used for different projects from helping to build the Rensselaer
Amtrak Station to buying CDTA buses), then the project
must be approved by the CDTC. No one, not the State Department
of Transportation, not the NYS Thruway Authority not the
Town of Guilderland or Colonie, can use a penny of the
federal money, unless it is approved in CDTC’s plan
and in CDTC’s program. That discipline allows the
CDTC (which is collection of these same local governments)
to establish rules, guidelines and higher standards for
transit projects. The discipline in the federal program
also requires fiscal responsibility. The CDTC’s process
must be fiscally responsible. The CDTC is required to have
a five-year program for projects and a 20-year plan which
is balanced against reasonably expected financial resources.
The CDTC takes this responsibility seriously. As an example,
Mr. Poorman described how the CDTC looked at the issue
of the Northway and the growing concern about congestion.
Mr. Poorman noted, “The traditional transportation
planning agency might have said, ‘we have a problem
how do we solve it, and which $300 million solution will
solve it the best — widening it, building a rail
line down the center, or what have you.’” Instead,
the CDTC examined the issue with the Northway in the context
of everything else, and asked such questions as: How urgent
is it? How does that priority stack up against other priorities
for the use of scarce resources? Do we have the resources
to implement the solutions? Based on work CDTC did with
NYS DOT and in the community, and analyzing the cost to
solve the problem, the CDTC asked is it a priority? And
the answer was no. The cost of widening the Northway was
too high when compared to other priorities for scarce resources.
The CDTC takes this common sense approach, but the CDTC’s
approach is not a typical MPO response. In context of the
CDTC’s current work to extend the long-range planning
out to 2030, Mr. Poorman described having the opportunity
to take a look at 14 other metropolitan long-range plans.
He discovered that these plans were not as realistic about
funding as the CDTC. For example, Atlanta’s plan
anticipates spending $50 billion on new roads and extensions
of rail systems. Seattle’s plan has 2000 lane miles
of highways as part of their solution.
Mr. Poorman believes that the capital District has the
opportunity to plan for growth better than most regions.
The CDTC has the agreement of all of the counties, all
of the cities, the towns and the villages to work through
For example, the vast majority of the $100 million transportation
dollars spent per year spent is spent on system preservation
and re-habilitation. CDTC objectives are couched in local
sustainability and one of the goals is to reduce the overall
cost of the transportation system on a per capital basis
(cost being defined as direct expenses, social impacts
and environmental damage), and to reduce the average cost
over the 20 years of the plan. Other goals include reducing
the per capita cost, reducing the cost to society for accidents,
fatalities, crashes on the system and to create a quality
of life that sustains a healthy economy and social fabric.
In the plan dating back to 1997, the CDTC adopted a policy
for an acceptable rate of growth in vehicular traffic Mr.
Poorman believes is unprecedented. The CDTC has a target
traffic level. These traffic forecasts are not trend projections,
they are traffic forecasts that the CDTC wants to reach
and can sustain. The CDTC is not designing to a situation
that is not wanted, the CDTC is designing for a situation
that we want to create.
Another aspect that is important is the realization that
the only way to achieve these goals is going through improved
land use planning, community design, and economic development
activities. In the CDTC’s long-range regional transportation
plan, there is an unusual budget element, that sits right along side technology
for busses, and that is support for planning. These planning studies have met
with a very positive response. In the last 4 years the CDTC has funded 36 separate
planning studies that the CDTC calls “community transportation linkage
For example, CDTC funded 75% of the cost of the Albany
Housing Authority study regarding marketing efforts to
revitalize the North Broadway commercial district in the
City of Albany. From one perspective, this study has a
very thin connection to transportation needs. But it is
central to the regional transportation plan because every
piece of economic activity that occurs in the City of Albany
is travel demand in some suburb of the Northway that is
not going be needed. These studies are as varied as Mansion
Neighborhood parking, to Glenville developing new regulations
to create a town center to sidewalk/driveway/ bicycle standards
Another principle the CDTC uses in evaluating projects
is that access to funding is “jurisdiction blind.” It is typical for MPOs around the country
to let the state DOTs take what they want off the top and other participants
share what is left. In the CDTC’s process, NYSDOT has to submit proposals
to the collective table just like everyone else. This has lead to a rare situation
where over the last 5-10 years, nearly half of the federal highway funds have
been devoted to projects off of the state highway system.
For example, look at NY 5 from downtown Albany to downtown
Schenectady. Between the City line of Albany and Schenectady,
NY 5 runs through the Towns of Colonie and Niskayuna, and
the Village of Colonie. That part of the road outside the
cities is owned by State of New York, maintained by the
State of New York, plowed by the State of New York, etc.
Inside the cities of Albany and Schenectady, NY 5 is a
city street, and totally the responsibility of the city.
In terms of level playing fields, the State structure and
jurisdiction over highways facilities and tax policies
puts cities at a disadvantage relative to suburban communities.
The CDTC can level the playing field by making Federal
funds available to projects based on need, and it is not
unusual for a city project to have a high level of need
because of the neglected repairs, etc.
Mr. Poorman then began to describe transportation projects
in the Pine Bush.
He said, “On your website, you had a nice critique of our ‘Pinebush
[sic] Transportation Study’, where Save the Pine Bush stated, ‘what
do you expect from an agency that doesn’t know how to spell ‘Pine
Bush’?’ So only semi-intentionally, I lifted this map from the ‘I
love New York’ website to point out that we are not the only agency that
has trouble spelling ‘Pine Bush’.”
Status of Transportation Proposals in the Pine Bush
1. I-87 Corridor Study: NYSDOT is wrapping up an extensive
examination of the entire corridor from New York City
to Montreal, with a focus on the Capital District to
the Canadian border. Recommendations emerging are modest,
emphasizing use of technology to manage congestion, improved
customs facilities and rail corridor investment to reduce NYC - Montreal
passenger rail travel times.
2. Thruway Authority's Albany Corridor
Study. The Authority
is winding down its technical work and public outreach.
The study puts on the table substantial work to redesign
toll areas and/or convert to mainline toll barriers to
accommodate twenty-year traffic projections. A direct connection
between the Northway and Thruway southbound is considered.
Widening between Exits 24 and 25 is also discussed. A funding source
has not been identified for any major actions and the recommendations
do not currently have status in CDTC's long-range plan.
3. NYS High Speed Rail Initiative. A significant joint
commitment by NYSDOT and Amtrak was made several years
ago to improve the high speed rail features of the Empire
Corridor. The plan, supported by CDTC, includes double-tracking
between Rensselaer and Schenectady. CDTC has also committed
funding to a Western Gateway Intermodal Center in Schenectady.
The overall plan has stalled because of both Amtrak's and New York
State's fiscal conditions.
4. Commuter Rail Demonstration: CDTC had intended to
test commuter rail from Saratoga County to Schenectady
and Albany, but work by CDTA determined that the cost of
a test would be prohibitive. The concept is alive for long-range
consideration, but finding a cost-effective rail service
design that would serve a large market is a tall challenge.
Location of stations between Schenectady and Albany would be critical
to any success; CDTC/CDTA's work had focused on one at Fuller Road
and one in downtown Albany.
5. Morris-Cordell High Speed Rail
Crossing: As a safety
project, NYSDOT has desired to eliminate the at-grade crossings
at these locations for some time. CDTC includes a project
to do so in its TIP. Recent charettes have raised the possibility
of building/realigning road corridors. If this is desired,
some recycling back to CDTC's TIP or plan may be necessary
to determine desirability and priority. CDTC had considered
but not funded a corridor project proposed by the town
of Colonie several years ago.
6. NY5 Bus Rapid Transit: As a result of extensive planning
and outreach, CDTC adopted a plan to invest in technology;
bus transit; access management and land use re-design;
bicycle and pedestrian accommodations along the corridor
between Schenectady and Albany. CDTC and CDTA are currently
conducting a Bus Rapid Transit Conceptual Design Study
to define the service, locate stations and determine feeder
services. Transit connectivity between NY 5 services and
Crossgates and other locations in the Pine Bush will be improved.
7. New Karner Rd.,
South of NY5: For many years, CDTC
maintained a plan to widen New Karner Road to four lanes.
Before initiating engineering work, CDTC asked for an assessment
of the environmental sustainability of such an action.
A NYSDOT investigation indicated that would be challenging.
In response, CDTC re-examined its Pinebush [sic] Transportation
Study, and reduced its plans for New Karner Road to a scale
comparable to that suggested by the Pine Bush Preserve
Commission (two-lane boulevard with habitat connections).
8. New Karner Rd. North of NY5. CDTC's work in the early
1990's suggested urgency to widening this section, as well.
Current priorities and budgets do not reflect a commitment
to this any longer.
9. Washington Avenue Extension. CDTC's re-examination
of its Pinebush [sic] Transportation Study has similarly
reduced the priority of a planned action to grade separate
the intersection with New Karner Road. This action has
been removed from CDTC's plans.
10. Lincoln Ave. High Speed Rail
Crossing. As a safety
project, NYSDOT has desired to eliminate the at-grade crossing
at this location. The village of Colonie has the lead in
project design, with one objective being to eliminate through
traffic from Lincoln Avenue and realign the crossing with
Jupiter Lane. Impacts on Pine Bush lands are a significant
consideration in design options.
11. Fuller Road. No current project is funded, but county
and state officials would like to explore traffic, pedestrian
and land use connectivity issues particularly in the area
around Washington Avenue extension as "high tech" activities
increase. A CDTC Linkage study may be considered over the next year.
12. Harriman Campus. Formal redevelopment of the campus
is underway. No transportation proposals have emerged,
but CDTC is interested in exploring redesign of the street
system and linkages to the surrounding communities.
13. McKownville Area. CDTC and Guilderland completed
a Linkage study in this area, leading to recommendations
for improved pedestrian and transit treatment.
14. Carman Road Area. Similarly, CDTC and Guilderland
completed a Linkage study in this corridor, identifying
a plan for sidewalk and signal improvements to improve
walkability and livability in this part of town.
15. Patroon Greenway. CDTC is conducting a study of the
possibility of constructing a trail along the Patroon
Creek connecting Rensselaer Lake to the Hudson River.
Alignment, sponsorship and funding are key questions.
16. Crossgates Mall Ring Road. Should the Thruway make
a direct connection to the Northway, this connection
will need re-design. Short of that, CDTC has offered
suggestions for improved traffic operations.
17. Old State Rd/New Karner Road. Realignment/ roundabout
is suggested by CDTC, subject to environmental considerations