Water mains and transportation focus of infrastructure forum

Feb 19, 2014

Central New York's underground infrastructure - namely, water mains - was a big focus of a discussion about the region's infrastructure hosted by Rep. Dan Maffei Tuesday.

Maffei, a Democrat from Syracuse, gathered elected officials, engineers and administrators at the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse to discuss infrastructure. One main message was that upgrades and maintenance of the region's plumbing and water pipes has been an often ignored or delayed investment.

It may be coming back to bite this year, as Syracuse has dealt with more than 100 water main breaks in the last two months.

Local governments may need to spend billions of dollars in the next decade to upgrade the century-old water system here, warned Orrin MacMurray, an engineer with the C&S Companies.

"One of the wonderful things about our area is that we have this history," he said," but with it has come decades of deferred expense in maintaining these systems."

Syracuse's water pipes were once constructed out of hallowed-out tree trunks. They've largely only been replaced as they've broken or leaked in the past few decades.

Maffei also asked questions about improving Hancock Airport in Syracuse, as well as mass transit options for the city.

A rapid bus transit system would be more practical and affordable for Syracuse over light rail or trollies, James D'Agostino, director of the Syracuse Metropolitan Transportation Council, told Maffei.

"A lot of people would like to see light rail or a street car in our city because it’s got a cool factor that no matter how much you do with a bus, you can’t get," D'Agostino said. "But the reality of the ongoing cost of maintaining something like might outstrip what a city our size probably, practically, could maintain."

Discussion of Interstate 81's future through downtown Syracuse was left for another time.

Maffei did briefly bring up high speed rail, an idea he has long lobbied for. But he conceded it's a difficult proposition right now and is instead focusing on other transportation modes.

"When you talk about goals and how important it is to improve our transportation infrastructure, I do think you have to be realistic," he said. "So, in the next couple of years I'm going to focus on the airport because I think changes at the airport can make the biggest difference right now."

Maffei said he hasn't given up on bringing high speed, or at least higher speed rail, to upstate New York.