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In 2005, City of Utica Secured $2.1M in Federal Funds For A Project That's No Longer Needed; Until Now, Federal Rules Have Blocked Reuse Of Dollars, Even In Adjacent Area

Schumer-Backed Law Now Key To Unlocking Long-Awaited Federal Dollars; Senator Urges State To Unlock, Then Direct Funds To Harbor Point; Harbor Redevelopment Part of Utica’s Master Plan 

Schumer: Fed Funds Will Be Anchor For Even More Harbor Funds & Projects 

After major push, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) will heed call to unlock $1.8 million in previously secured federal transportation funding for City of Utica, by repurposing previously appropriated funds from complete or obsolete projects. In August, Schumer joined with local officials to launch his push to secure this desperately needed federal investment.

“For over a decade, funds that could have been spent on critical infrastructure projects in Utica, but have been under lock and key, guarded by federal bureaucracy,” said U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer. “This project is already part of Utica’s master plan, and was strongly needed to connect Downtown and Bagg Square’s growth with future development at Harbor Point. These funds were designated for the City of Utica, and I’m glad FHWA and NYSDOT heeded my call to keep every penny in Utica to be used on local projects like the Utica Harbor Pedestrianway.”

“This announcement is outstanding news for the City of Utica and the overall development of the Utica Harbor.  Unlocking this funding would not have been possible without Senator Schumer and his staff’s tireless and effective advocacy.  This is just another example of the City working with its partners for the betterment of our community.  I thank Senator Schumer for his continued support and once again delivering for Utica,” said Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri.  

In 2005, Utica was awarded a $2.1 million earmark to re-establish Water Street, however, less than 10% was spent and the rest remained unused. Until now, federal rules blocked the reuse of funds even if the project was no longer needed or part of a citywide plan, as in this instance. However, a newly enacted, Schumer-backed law now gives FHWA and NYSDOT the authority to repurpose any unspent money to newer projects nearby that are needed. This means there is new hope to both unlock these funds and put them to good use on local projects – like a major boost for Utica’s Harbor. In addition, this change will ensure that the remaining $1.9 million in taxpayer funds will not be wasted or simply locked away in a federal account.

Schumer explained that in 2005, Congress approved an earmark for the City of Utica in the amount of $2.1 million, but less than 10% was actually used. Schumer explained that, at the time, the federal funds were initially earmarked for the “Utica Marsh- Reestablish Water Street” project, designed to reconnect Water Street to the surrounding areas and make structural repairs to the Barnes Avenue Bridge. However, an inspection by the NYSDOT later revealed that the bridge required more extensive repairs than originally expected. This significantly raised the repair costs well beyond the available federal funds originally allocated. As a result, the City of Utica decided to close the Barnes Avenue Bridge and put off the project, dramatically reducing the cost of the overall project. Since then, the City developed a new, citywide masterplan in 2011 that no longer included the re-establishing of Water Street.

The city is left with approximately $1.8 million in unspent dollars, which the City of Utica was legally prevented from spending on other more pressing or important projects until the Schumer supported provision passed late last year. Schumer explained that, the City of Utica recently decided to spend this $1.8 million on its “Pedestrianway to the Utica Harbor” project, as outlined in its citywide master plan. The Utica Harbor Pedestrianway Project is aimed at improving mobility and connectivity throughout Utica by fostering a healthier, safer and more sustainable environment for pedestrians and bicyclists. Specifically, the project will do two things. First, it would double the width of a stretch of existing sidewalk. Second, it would reconfigure an intersection to better accommodate both vehicular and pedestrian/bicycle traffic as well as provide connectivity to the Rayhill trail, Downtown and Bagg’s Square.

In August, Schumer said refocusing this funding towards work at Harbor Point fits within the City’s broader vision of its future. In recent years, the City has advanced several planning initiatives, including the completion of a citywide master plan, which has set the stage for future development in specific city areas. From utilizing state funds and working with organizations like Rust 2 Green to implement parts of this redevelopment plan, to transferring over 30 acres of waterfront property from the State’s Canal Corporation to the City’s Harbor Point Development Corporation in order to open the area up to greater opportunities. New businesses have begun to populate the ground floor of existing buildings in both areas, while loft apartment projects are planned or underway for the upper floors of numerous buildings. As existing, vacant building space is rehabilitated and the inventory of such space begins to dwindle, in-fill development with new construction is starting to take a foothold. When combined with the anticipated mixed-use development at Harbor Point, it has become increasingly apparent that improved connections between the Downtown, Bagg’s Square and Harbor Point are imperative, particularly for pedestrians and bicyclists.

In 2015, Schumer fought to secure a provision in the omnibus spending bill – the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 – that allows states to repurpose unspent federal funds originally earmarked for specific purposes more than 10 years ago, where at least 90 percent of the funds remained unobligated. Because the proposed Utica Harbor Pedestrianway Project is located within 50 miles of the original project and meets these requirements, it could be eligible to take advantage of this provision.