Blog Transportation

“Parity” for State Transportation Investments

A Misguided Misnomer

March 09, 2017

In recent years some New York State elected officials have argued that spending for transportation capital projects should follow a guideline of “parity” between mass transit facilities downstate and road and bridge improvements in the rest of the state. In 2016, achieving parity was given priority during annual budget deliberations, and a claim was made that parity was achieved in spending for mass transit in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) five-year capital plan and for road, bridge, and other infrastructure in the State Department of Transportation’s (DOT) five-year capital plan. The reality is that such parity is not the current policy—and it should not be.

Parity as a Misnomer

Part of the appeal of the concept of parity is the State has two distinct five-year capital plans for major transportation infrastructure: one for the MTA, which covers mass transit facilities downstate, and one for the DOT, which covers all state roads and bridges as well as some other facilities.

The MTA has been preparing five-year capital plans since 1982; the plans are guided by 20-year assessments of capital needs conducted by MTA staff. The proposed plan must be approved first by the MTA board and then by a Capital Program Review Board (CPRB) consisting of representatives of the Governor and legislative leaders. The current MTA plan spans 2015 to 2019; it was initially rejected by the CPRB in 2014, but a revised plan was approved by the MTA Board in October 2015 and by the CPRB in April 2016.

The State’s annual budget process has long required the DOT to prepare a rolling five-year capital plan, but this document is less specific than the MTA’s capital plan; the DOT plan identifies only amounts for broad categories of projects. The DOT was required legislatively to create a more detailed five-year capital program in 2009. The projects included in the DOT capital program are guided significantly by a Transportation Asset Management Plan developed by DOT staff.1 The first DOT five-year program was released in October 2009 and covered fiscal years 2011 to 2015.2 The 2016-2020 DOT capital program was released in July 2016.3

During negotiations over the Fiscal Year 2017 State Budget, legislators pushed to “link” resources for the DOT 2016-2020 capital program to the size of the MTA capital plan for 2015-2019.4 This view prevailed, and the State’s Fiscal Year 2017 Enacted Budget included $27 billion in its capital plan for transportation and transit, a sum that matched the amount for mass transit (excluding bridges and tunnels) in the MTA’s capital plan.5

But correspondence between the spending amounts is a far cry from parity between investments in downstate mass transit and upstate roads and bridges.6 Two factors make parity a misnomer for a comparison between the plans.

1. The plans cover different time periods.

The MTA plan covers five calendar years, 2015 through 2019; it totals $29.5 billion, of which $2.9 billion is for bridges and tunnels, leaving $26.6 billion for mass transit.7 The DOT capital program is intended to cover five state fiscal years, beginning in fiscal year 2016 and ending in fiscal year 2020. The spending for that period totals $21.2 billion. In order to bring the DOT total closer to the MTA amount, a sixth year with spending of about $4.0 billion was added to the DOT program. (See Table 1.) Thus the “parity” is between a five-year MTA program of $26.6 billion and a six-year DOT program of $25.1 billion. If only five-years of the DOT program were considered, the mismatch would be $26.6 billion versus $21.2 billion.

Table 1: Transportation Capital Plan Obligations, FY2016-FY2021
(dollars in millions)
  FY2016 FY2017 FY2018 FY2019 FY2020 FY2021 Total
DOT - Federal Funds 1,475 1,682 1,740 1,947 2,076 1,744 $10,664
DOT - Special Infrastructure 0 50 50 50 50 0 $200
DOT - Other State Funds 2,287 2,649 2,548 2,253 2,308 2,241 $14,286
Thruway - Special Infrastructure 1,285 700 0 0 0 0 $1,985
TOTAL $5,048 $5,081 $4,337 $4,250 $4,434 $3,985 $27,135
Cumulative DOT Total $3,763 $8,143 $12,481 $16,731

Source: New York State Division of the Budget, FY 2017 Enacted Capital Program and Financing Plan (May 2016), p. 37.

Another distortion built into the parity claim is the inclusion of spending by the Thruway Authority in the DOT’s capital program. The Thruway Authority is an independent agency and has its own capital plan; however the capital program presented by the Division of the Budget for the DOT includes nearly $2.0 billion of Thruway Authority spending, primarily for its New NY Bridge.8 This funding comes from a Special Infrastructure Account established to use part of the State’s special settlement funds and is not under the DOT’s purview. However, including this funding brings the revised DOT program total of $27.1 billion, above the MTA’s $26.6 billion mass transit total.

2. The DOT program includes large sums for projects in New York City, as well as upstate road and bridge investments.

Projects in the MTA plan primarily benefit 12 counties in the downstate area; in contrast, the DOT plan funds projects statewide with a significant portion of the funds allocated to projects in the MTA service area including New York City.9 (See Table 2.)

Table 2: DOT Capital Program Allocations by Region: FY2016-FY2020
(dollars in millions)
  State Highway and Bridge Program Other Sector Investments Total
Downstate Spending $6,505 $0 $6,505
  New York City 3,129    
  Long Island 1,483    
  Mid-Hudson 1,619    
  Mid-Hudson, New York City, Long Island 275    
Upstate Spending $4,342 $805 $5,147
  Southern Tier 1,033    
  Capital District 774    
  Western New York 730    
  Finger Lakes 614    
  Central New York 514    
  Mohawk Valley 344    
  North Country 332    
Subtotal, Regional Projects $10,847 $805 $11,652
Statewide/Unallocated 3,019   3,019
Subtotal $13,866 $805 $14,671
All Other - Unspecified Purposes/Regions     6,494
Total DOT Plan, FY2016-FY2020     $21,165

Source: New York State Department of Transportation, State Fiscal Year 2015/16-2019/20 Transportation Capital Program (July 2016).

Of the nearly $11 billion of regional bridge and highway projects specified in the 2016-2020 DOT plan, 29 percent will be in New York City, and 60 percent will be in the MTA service region including New York City, Long Island, and the mid-Hudson counties. The MTA service region will also benefit from some of the $3 billion in yet-to-be allocated road and bridge investments and other general funding for engineering, preventative maintenance, and safety inspection programs.10 About $800 million for airports, non-MTA transit authorities, and freight rail is specifically earmarked for upstate projects.11

Parity is a Misguided Policy Objective

New Yorkers should not be troubled by the lack of parity for downstate mass transit and upstate road and bridge investments. Matching these sums is an arbitrary and misguided way to determine the size of the respective capital programs. Instead, the scale and content of each capital program should be rooted in an objective assessment of needs relating current asset conditions to a desired state of good repair and identifying priorities for system enhancements based on a comparison of projected performance indicators for prospective projects. Political judgment is appropriate in making the hard choices among repair needs and improvements, but these judgments should be informed by careful and professional analysis.

The MTA’s 20-year needs assessments and the DOT’s Transportation Asset Management Plan are useful starting points for constructing capital plans and should be enhanced and better utilized in future budget processes. Meanwhile, some basic information about condition and use of roads, bridges, and mass transit in the upstate and downstate regions indicates that funding based on need would not adhere to the parity for which some have advocated. (See Table 3.)

Table 3: Regional Share of Miles Traveled by Transportation Mode
  New York City Other MTA Regions Non-MTA Regions
% Statewide Travel on Transit 71% 25% 5%
% Statewide Travel on Roads 13% 34% 53%
% Statewide Travel on Bridges 58% 16% 26%

Sources: US Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration, “Monthly Module Adjusted Data Release” (December 2016); New York State Department of Transportation, 2014 Pavement Report; US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, “Bridges & Structures;” and New York State Department of Transportation, “New York State Highway Bridge Data.”

The volume of road and bridge traffic in New York City suggests it should receive substantial DOT funding for these facilities. The City and the counties in the MTA service region account for nearly half all statewide travel on roads, with the rest of the state accounting for a majority 53 percent. New York City also accounts for more bridge travel than the rest of the state. However, bridges outside the MTA region account for more than three-quarters of all state brides and more than four of every five bridges classified as structurally deficient and in need of serious repair. (See Table 4.)


Table 4: Census of State Bridges by Condition
Bridge Condition New York City Other MTA Regions Non-MTA Regions Total
Not Deficient 326 1,304 9,587 11,217
Functionally Obsolete 978 1,106 2,204 4,288
Structurally Deficient 138 197 1,621 1,956
Total 1,442 2,607 13,412 17,461

Sources: US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration, “Bridges & Structures;” and New York State Department of Transportation, “New York State Highway Bridge Data.”

More analysis is required, but it is likely that more detailed needs assessment will point to a more nuanced allocation of transit and road and bridge capital funds than a simplistic notion of parity.


  1. New York State Department of Transportation, New York State DOT Transportation Asset Management Plan Draft (May 2014), pp. ES-1,
  2. For the 2011-2015 DOT capital plan, two-year memorandums of understanding became the means by which DOT capital dollars were ultimately disbursed to projects. See: New York State, State Fiscal Year 2013-2014/2014-2015 Transportation Capital Program (March 24, 2013),
  3. New York State Department of Transportation, State Fiscal Year 2015/16-2019/20 Transportation Capital Program (July 2016),
  4. Capital planning parity was being pursued. Given disparate financing mechanisms and resources, the argument was not centered on parity as it related to an allocation of state aid. See: Tom Precious, “WNY Legislators Seek ‘parity’ in Upstate Roads, Downstate MTA Funding,” Buffalo News (February 2, 2016),; and New York State Senate, “Senate Passes 2016-17 State Budget That Creates Better Economic Opportunities For All New Yorkers” (accessed January 6, 2017),
  5. New York State Division of the Budget, FY 2017 Enacted Capital Program and Financing Plan (May 2016), p. 37,
  6. “Spending” in this policy brief refers to capital commitments, not disbursements or appropriations. See: New York State Division of the Budget, FY 2017 Enacted Capital Program and Financing Plan (May 2016), p. 36,
  7. Between October 2015 and April 2016 an additional $500 million was added to the MTA capital plan from Federal funding anticipated for Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway. See Metropolitan Transit Authority, MTA Capital Program 2015-2019 (May 23, 2016), p. 40,
  8. New York State Division of the Budget, FY 2017 Enacted Capital Program and Financing Plan (May 2016), p. 11,
  9. New York State Senate, “New Budget Provides Record Infrastructure Investment” (April 12, 2016),; and Jimmy Vielkind, “Upstate Officials Argue for ‘parity’ after MTA Deal,” Politico (October 20, 2015),
  10. New York State Division of the Budget, email to Citizens Budget Commission staff (November 4, 2016).
  11. New York State Department of Transportation, State Fiscal year 2015/16-2019/20 Transportation Capital Program (July 2016),