A Better Strategy for New Rochelle’s Roads

Paving MapRoadwork.  That’s a pretty boring topic.  But when you consider it, roads have a huge impact on – well – nearly everything about a community.  So when local roads are in bad shape or poorly designed, it’s a big problem.

Last year, with New Rochelle’s roads feeling the effects of two tough winters in a row,  we tripled our annual street paving budget.  That extra funding helped a lot, but a new comprehensive study shows that a single year of expanded paving operations isn’t enough.   What’s needed instead is a consistent, ongoing investment in local infrastructure, including an effective program of preventive maintenance.

The study, which was presented to the Council last night, rates the condition of each of our local roads on a 100-point scale, and gives an overall composite score of 71 to New Rochelle’s road network as a whole.  To keep that overall rating, the City will have to invest approximately $2.5 million per year in road surfacing and maintenance.

Historically, our road paving budget has been funded entirely by an annual State grant called CHIPS, which comes in at only around $1 million.  That means we’ll have to find an additional $1.5 million in local dollars every year to maintain status quo road conditions.

The conclusion is sobering, but not very surprising.  As I’ve written before, infrastructure has been chronically shortchanged here and in lots of other places.  This study just helps to quantify the challenge.

The good news is that the City Council and Administration agree that infrastructure needs to be a higher priority, so last night we approved a bond that will bring our 2016 road budget up to the recommended $2.5 million level, with an eye toward establishing this as a baseline in future budgets.

The Council also took another action that I consider equally important.   We directed our staff to take a city-wide look at roads suitable for redesign, with a special emphasis on walkability.

Take Palmer Avenue, as just one example.  Between Sun Haven and Cedar, it’s a six-lane highway, with way too much unnecessary traffic capacity, virtually no greenery, and nothing that invites you to get out of your car.  Wouldn’t it be better to convert one lane in each direction for walkers, cyclists, landscaping, and other features that make for a better experience all around?

New York City has done some great work of this kind, illustrating the benefits of a thoughtful approach to street design.  Even a heavily-trafficked arterial like the West Side Highway has been transformed by the inclusion of pedestrian and bike-friendly features.

With a road design plan in place for New Rochelle, we’ll be able to compete more effectively for grants or assign local capital dollars for specific projects.  We’ll also help ensure that our expanded road paving budget isn’t misspent doubling-down on past mistakes.

So, a major commitment to infrastructure funding, together with a major change in road design philosophy . . . not bad for one Council meeting.  Maybe roadwork isn’t so boring after all.