Congress Deadlocked on Additional Stimulus Relief
Congressional Democrats and Republicans are holding firm to their differing priorities on a new round of stimulus relief. Democratic leadership in the House and Senate are continuing to push for the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act, or the HEROES Act, which was introduced in the House on May 12, 2020. The HEROES Act, among other things, modifies and expands the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofit organizations; establishes a fund to award grants for employers to provide pandemic premium pay for essential workers; expands several tax credits and deductions; provides funding and establishes requirements for COVID-19 testing and contact tracing; extends and expands the moratorium on certain evictions and foreclosures; requires employers to develop and implement infectious disease exposure control plans; provides emergency payments and assistance to state and local governments as well as federal agencies; and provides additional direct payments of up to $1,200.00 per individual.
The HEROES Act would inject $2.4 trillion of stimulus relief to the economy. At a joint news conference on November 12, 2020, both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stated that the level of relief provided by the HEROES Act is required, especially with rising rates of COVID-19 across the country.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responded to Pelosi and Schumer’s remarks, saying that he does not believe the US economy needs the level of support Democrats are pushing for. Instead, Republicans are pushing for a $500 billion relief proposal, an amount only a fifth of the size that Democrats want. McConnell is expected to take a bigger role in the talks after taking a backseat most of the summer, while the White House sits out. Republicans are pressing a slimmer aid plan, which Democrats have blocked twice already. It includes $300 weekly federal unemployment benefits and small business aid, but leaves out stimulus checks and aid to states.
Months-long negotiations between the Trump administration and Democrats on a stimulus plan collapsed before the presidential election. President Donald Trump supported a large stimulus package, but he has not publicly commented on it since the election, instead focusing on grievances about the results.
Many economists and Federal Reserve officials are prodding Congress to approve another stimulus package. The November jobs report marked the fourth month in a row of slowing job gains, and 21,000,000 Americans are still claiming some form of unemployment benefits as the jobless rate stays elevated at 6.9%. Those benefits are set to expire for millions of people in December without an extension from Congress.
Cashless Tolling is Live on New York State Thruway
Overnight Friday, November 13 into Saturday, November 14, 58 tolling locations across the New York State Thruway System were converted to cashless tolling. Toll plaza removal and interchange reconfigurations are underway.
At this time, cash will no longer be accepted as a form of payment at toll booths and printed toll tickets will not be handed out. To support this transition, NY E-ZPass has released a new TollsNY mobile app to help drivers manage E-ZPass accounts, find and pay Tolls by Mail invoices, and get important account alerts for tolls accrued at Thruway, MTA, and Port Authority tolling sites.
The $355 million design-build project to convert to cashless tolling is transforming and modernizing the Thruway system for approximately 267 million motorists that travel through it each year. As part of the project, American-made steel gantries with state-of-the-art technology have been installed to replace cash collection at toll booths. Gantries are located over the Thruway or on exit ramps depending on traffic volumes, safety, and other factors. The tolling structure will not change and drivers will continue to be tolled by distance and exits traveled.
The conversion to cashless tolling marks the end of phase one of the project. Phase two, which begins following the conversion, includes the removal of existing toll plazas. During the interchange reconstruction, drivers will continue to travel through existing toll lanes at reduced speeds without stopping until the booths are removed and road reconfigurations are complete. Drivers should expect traffic shifts and must use caution around the toll plazas during this time, as these will be active construction zones. The posted speed limit when traveling through the toll lanes will be 20 MPH.
Vehicles with E-ZPass tags are automatically charged and vehicles without E-ZPass tags will have their license plate image captured and a toll bill mailed to the registered owner of the vehicle via Tolls by Mail. Non E-ZPass customers have a number of options to pay including by mail, over the phone, online, and via the TollsNY app. Customers who call **826 from most mobile devices will receive a text message with a link to the Tolls by Mail website and information on how to pay their toll bill.
New Exchange Street Train Station Complete as Economic Development Continues in Buffalo
Major construction has been completed on the new, state-of the-art transportation hub in downtown Buffalo. The Exchange Street Station is twice the size of the city’s previous rail station and provides travelers with a convenient and intermodal gateway to Buffalo’s bustling downtown with easy connections to local bus and light rail service. The new station will promote economic activity and tourism for the entire Western New York region and further Buffalo’s continued resurgence by making it easier to visit the area’s many attractions.
Located near such popular destinations as Canalside and the Key Bank Arena, the new station was constructed on the same grounds as the previous, 66-year-old Amtrak Station, but was elevated and moved closer to the street to improve access and visibility. The structure was also designed to accommodate the future expansion of intercity bus service and additional train routes, creating a truly intermodal transit center for downtown Buffalo. The new station has a capacity of more than 40 seats and the image of a Buffalo is featured at the center of its Terrazzo floor. The previous station’s low-level platform was replaced by a new, longer, train-level platform for easier boarding. It also features new lighting and a canopy.
The New York State Department of Transportation assumed control of the project to replace the train station after the City of Buffalo conducted a location study that resulted in the decision to use the existing station’s footprint for the new and improved facility. The state awarded a $27.7 million design-build contract for the construction of the new station in December of 2018 and work began shortly thereafter. The old station was demolished and a temporary station was erected to service passengers during the construction process.
Governor Cuomo stated, “Access to multiple forms of transportation is essential to growing any local economy. For far too long, the Queen City has been without a welcoming rail station that’s commensurate with the growth Western New York has experienced in recent years. Thanks to the hard work of so many people, Buffalo now has the modern transportation hub it deserves – and with the completion of this project we are sending a message that we can still build and get things done even during COVID.”
Prepared by Eric W. Marriott