The Collier Street parking garage in Binghamton has seen better days – much like the city itself. Located in a busy part of downtown, the structure sticks out as a symbol of the blight the plagues the upstate city. It has been deserted since November, when it reached the end of its useful life, and is now cordoned off from the public.

Binghamton Mayor Richard David is constantly reminded of the ramp’s closure, as his office overlooks the parking garage.

“Residents and businesses do not want to live or locate in areas that have broken or dilapidated infrastructure,” David said during interview in his office. “Parking on the surface is not a glamorous subject, and you wouldn’t think it ranks very high in regards to infrastructure or other challenges, but I think parking and economic development go hand in hand.” In other parts of the city, the infrastructure is so old it is literally crumbling. Back in 2010, just a few blocks away from the parking garage, a piece of concrete slab broke off from the Water Street parking ramp and sliced through a tractor trailer.

“Binghamton, like many cities in upstate New York, is a city that faces a variety of challenges in regards to infrastructure,” David said. “It’s an older city and, frankly, in the course of the last decade or so, infrastructure has been neglected.”

Back in 2010, just a few blocks away from the parking garage, a piece of concrete slab broke off from the Water Street parking ramp and sliced through a tractor trailer.

The Collier Street parking garage in downtown Binghamton, which has been closed since November due to its poor condition. (Heather Ainsworth).

Since taking office in 2014, David has tried to reverse that trend by tackling the city’s infrastructure problems at the local level. The mayor developed a multi-year plan to fix the city’s roads, but he is worried about paving new roads over aging water and sewer pipes. The city is fixing some of the pipes as they pave the roads to try to avoid digging them up again in the near future.

“You can’t always prevent a water main break, but you can with a certain degree of knowledge know that, OK, if your water line is 30 years old, that you shouldn’t pave a street without addressing the water line,” he said. “Residents and businesses do not want to live or locate in areas that have broken or dilapidated infrastructure. Working on infrastructure is part of an ongoing goal to create an environment that’s more attractive to residents and businesses.” Binghamton sits in the Southern Tier region, which was dealt several hard hits in recent years. First, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration initially declined to grant the region one of four commercial casino licenses. Then, the state banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus shale, which the region is rich with.

But the Southern Tier has recently seen a fortunate turn of events: the state ultimately reversed its decision for a casino license and the region won $500 million through the Upstate Revitalization Initiative.

Of the $500 million, $20 million will be used by Binghamton to replace the Collier Street parking garage.

“In the past several years we’ve had an explosion in regards to student housing and residential housing in downtown. Take a major parking ramp offline – that’s going to have a major impact on downtown,” David said. “That’s our busiest ramp right now.”

On top of maintaining and repaving its roads and parking structures, Binghamton is undergoing the reconstruction of the Binghamton Johnson City Joint Sewage Treatment Plant, estimated to cost $179 million. In December, the state awarded the project a $5 million grant. The city had to issue a bond to pay for the construction, and David is concerned about the long-term impact that could have on future ratepayers. Last year also marked the first time the city had to issue a bond to pay for the milling and paving of roads.

“It’s an older city and, frankly, in the course of the last decade or so, infrastructure has been neglected.”
- Binghamton Mayor Richard David

Binghamton Mayor Richard David and reporter Ashley Hupfl stand in the Collier Street parking garage, which the city will replace using $20 million in Upstate Revitalization Initiative funds. (Heather Ainsworth)

“This administration has taken on all of the infrastructure projects that we can,” David said. “With infrastructure, we’re talking multimillion-dollar projects. We’re borrowing money every year to invest more in our neighborhood street reconstruction – that can’t continue indefinitely. If we’re going to be successful we need to do as much as we can today to create a better environment that’s more conducive to economic development opportunities.”

In October, state and New York City officials announced a deal to fund the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s capital plan. Under the agreement, Cuomo pledged $8.3 billion from the state. The move spurred upstate lawmakers to call for an equal investment in upstate infrastructure. Earlier this year the governor pledged $22 billion over five years for upstate roads and bridges, although much of it was already budgeted.

“We constantly see a massive, significant investment in downstate, and upstate is looking for our fair share and recognition that there are a lot of major challenges facing upstate cities, as well,” David said. “You could make significant progress on addressing those issues with a fraction of the amount of money (invested in downstate).”

Like many other elected officials, David is hopeful a major investment in upstate infrastructure will happen soon.

“I’m confident that at the end of the day, the governor will recognize that investment must be made in upstate cities in order to preserve long-term growth and development of upstate New York,” he said. “We need assistance from the state to make these dreams a reality.”

Click here to read part six of our saga: Albany.