In hand: about $1 billion.
Requested: $1.5 billion.
Being pursued: Billions more in federal dollars, especially to rebuild the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and to create an electric vehicle fleet and charging ports throughout the city.
With billions of dollars at stake, the administration of Mayor Eric Adams has launched an aggressive plan to capture as much as possible from the $1.2 trillion the 2022 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act over the next decade.
While a majority of the money is handed out according to pre-set formulas, the city must wrangle for about a quarter of the money that is allocated through competitive grants.
“We are applying for everything,” said Meera Joshi, deputy mayor for operations, who is leading the effort. “We are sophisticated in applying for grants, but the range of complexity of our needs is huge and combine that with our density makes it difficult.”
Of course, the city is also only one local government seeking what the New York Building Congress estimates is at least $200 billion that could come to the state.
The biggest grant to date was announced last month, when Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York) said almost $7 billion had been allocated for the Gateway Project to build a new rail tunnel between New York and New Jersey, allowing construction to begin.
The MTA had been promised $4.5 billion, virtually all of it according to the formulas built into the law. It has won competitive grants worth $400 million for ADA improvements in Brooklyn and battery powered buses and several other projects.
All those projects have been in the works for decades. The city’s task is more difficult.
“We have to be able to say we have a plan,” said Carlo Scissura, president of the New York Building Congress. “The city has to identify projects that meet the requirements of the infrastructure law.” High on his priorities: tearing down expressways like the BQE and the Cross Bronx and rebuilding them as covered roadways.
The Adams administration announced earlier this month that it had received almost $1 billion in competitive grants to help finance the rebuilding of the Hunts Point Terminal Market in The Bronx, build e-bike charging stations at public housing projects, buy electric school buses and improve several dangerous intersections.
Joshi, who had been involved in passing and implementing the new law while working at the federal Department of Transportation before joining the Adams administration, has revamped the city’s approach to federal funding.
She has assembled a task force of about 50 regular participants from 15 city agencies usually represented by the chief finance, policy and capital officials. In a reversal of previous city policy, agencies now compete against each other rather than someone choosing one proposal to submit, and projects must have several objectives such as proposing a project that creates a public space that includes measures to make the area resistant to climate change.
The city has submitted to the federal government proposals for projects totaling $1.5 billion and expects to increase that figure to $2.5 billion at year’s end.
An even bigger request is expected to come sometime this month when the Adams administration is expected to announce its plan to rebuild the crumbing triple cantilever section of the BQE in Brooklyn and to seek more than $2 billion in federal infrastructure funds to pay for it.
“More than 13,000 trucks a day use that highway and it is the poster child for neglect,” Joshi said. The reconstruction will be a joint city and state effort, the first time the two have worked together on such a project.
Soon after will be a series of steps to make the city a leader in electric vehicles by building a network of charging stations, buying thousands of electric school buses, and creating sidewalk charging stations for the up to 150,000 zero-emission cars it expects professional drivers to be using by 2030.
Longer range but even more significant would be tearing down and rebuilding the BQE and the Cross Bronx Expressway, whose construction in the mid-20th century divided many low-income residential communities. The city has received a $1 million planning grant for the Cross Bronx and is working with communities along the BQE to come up with a proposal on what to do about the expressway, which could involve putting it in a tunnel or on street level but capped or enclosed. The cost would be more than $10 billion.
The federal infrastructure law requires localities to come up with 20% of the cost, which the city would do through its capital budget. It encourages use of union labor, which is not a problem in New York, since all public projects are mandated to be unionized.
The law also demands community participation and the awarding of contracts to minority- and women-owned businesses. The city has hosted more than 50 public meetings and hearings on its plans for the BQE, Joshi notes, and earlier this month the mayor announced an effort to streamline data collection, one step in its plan to increase minority- and women-owned business participation.
The economic impact of the infrastructure money will be crucial for the city’s still underperforming construction sector. Employment remains about 11,000 jobs below its pre-pandemic peak of 164,000, and both office and residential building are expected to slow in the coming years given two major issues: the city’s high office vacancy rate and developers’ unwillingness to start rental projects without the expired 421-a property tax break.
Nationally, Moody’s Analytics has projected that the infrastructure law will add nearly 360,000 jobs by the end of 2024 and 660,000 jobs at its peak employment impact at the end of 2025.
No one has done a local economic impact study, but Joshi says the city believes every $90,000 in spending creates one job.
She knows her task is only beginning.
“In a city like New York it takes a certain amount of motivating and cheerleading,” she said. “We have four more years of opportunities, and we can’t overlook the need to have intensity on this project.”