ALBANY–Comptroller Tom DiNapoli said a diversion of funding from the State’s Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund may have contributed to the decay that has caused the closure of the Champlain Bridge.
“An aging bridge that was in urgent need of repair should have been prioritized,” DiNapoli just told reporters on a conference call. “Certainly if we have a more thoughtful way to manage this money, one would expect that this situation–where you have to close a bridge–is a situation we could have avoided.”
DiNapoli unveiled a report which said that since the fund’s creation in 1991, the billions it contains have slowly been diverted from “pay-as-you-go critical transportation needs” to providing operating support for the Departments of Transportation and Motor Vehicles, as well as “back-door borrowing.”
An inspection of the Champlain Bridge two weeks ago revealed structural deficiencies that caused its closure. Over 3,000 cars a day commute over the span, and residents say it is a vital link for delivery of goods by businesses on both sides of Lake Champlain. The alternative is a ferry ride or hour-long drive.
David Paterson declared a state of emergency because of the bridge closure, but DiNapoli–in releasing the report–is seizing a political issue in a major way. A meeting last night in Moriah drew over 300 angry people. DiNapoli is expected to face a tough election in 2010.
“The example of what happened in Champlain Valley shows an urgent need, and we need to correct this,” DiNapoli said. “Outrage certainly is appropriate.”