Funding to fill highways like Inner Loop slashed, but optimism remains

Aug 11, 2021

Credit Max Schulte / WXXI News

President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure bill has made it through the Senate, but one part that some Rochester residents were counting on didn’t make it through the process unscathed.

To get the measure passed, it took compromise, and that meant a massive cut to part of the bill that would help pay to fill the northern part of the Inner Loop. That part of the bill, called Reconnecting Communities, had $20 billion earmarked. Now, there’s only $1 billion available. 

The city of Rochester has been working on plans to fill that part of the Inner Loop for more than two years. The cost, the city said, could be as low as $70 million and as high as $300 million.

City spokesperson Justin Roj called this turn of events disappointing but said the bill is still game-changing.

“Certainly, would we like more money to be in the bill today? Of course,” Roj said. “But I think we should all be celebrating the fact that there is a billion dollars for projects like Inner Loop north.”

He said the city has no intention of scaling back its plans. 

Suzanne Mayer of the advocacy group Hinge Neighbors has spent the last few years helping residents and businesses have a say in the project. She called the infrastructure bill “a letdown,” forcing municipalities to compete for a smaller piece of the pie. 

“Yeah, we’re disappointed,” Mayer said. “I mean, you always have to compete for scarce resources and now they’re even scarcer.” 

Despite the disappointment, Hinge Neighbors co-founder Shawn Dunwoody said he’s still hopeful that the project could still happen. 

“It won’t help many other communities, but after meeting with (U.S. Sen. Chuck) Schumer and (U.S. Sen. Kirsten) Gillibrand’s offices, it's clear they are adhering to their commitment to help Rochester and the Inner Loop,” Dunwoody said. “We have to stay on them. We have to keep meeting with senators and elected officials.”

Alison Biscotti, Schumer’s spokesperson, wrote via email that the senator intends to keep his promise. Biscotti said there are multiple pools of money that could be tapped for the project, including $7.5 billion in RAISE (Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity) grants and $11.5 billion set aside for New York state as part of the Formula Highway Programs. Biscotti also said more funding could be on the way through the budget process. 

The $3.5 trillion budget is being considered now.