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Times Union Editorial: A Way Back to Prosperity

As New York cautiously emerges from the dormancy forced by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is rightly looking at ways the state can jump-start its economy. One of his first ideas is to revive discussion of a transmission line to carry power from Canada to New York City.

The Champlain Hudson Power Express, which would mostly run under Lake Champlain and the Hudson River, seems to be a useful start. It would create construction jobs and yield more of the green energy New York is mandated by its own law to shift to in coming years.

But surely New York can do more than plug in a $3 billion extension cord from Quebec. Surely we need to do more.

When it comes to green energy, the state should be looking to encourage more in-state projects, particularly in appropriate areas upstate where open space for solar and wind energy is abundant, and where jobs are ever-scarce. An upstate supply to address a downstate demand seems to be the kind of win-win that politicians and economic developers always talk of. And if upstate is to grow, it needs energy, too, of course. New York and power companies might find much more local interest in hosting such projects if there are clear local benefits — notably, clean, low-cost energy.

There’s far more to infrastructure, though, than electricity.

One has only to look at the last “Report Card for New York’s Infrastructure” from the American Society of Civil Engineers. Though done in 2015, it’s not terribly outdated — since not much has been done, honestly — and it shows the state in need of a lot of work, especially on roads, bridges and dams. What’s underground isn’t any better: sewage systems got a D, water systems a C.

One can’t talk about infrastructure today either without including broadband and 5G technology. New York needs universal high-speed internet access, not just in highly profitable, population-rich cities and suburbs, but in poorer rural communities.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in state and federal funds are out there for this, but hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers are still stuck in the dial-up era of 30 years ago.

Fixing, replacing, and modernizing all that would take tens of billions of dollars the state doesn’t have, at first glance. But New York pours billions of dollars a year into politically popular economic development projects, like office buildings with questionable returns. Coming out of this pandemic pause might be the moment to allocate a good chunk of that money to the infrastructure that can revitalize aCOVID-hobbled economy, and that can attract and keep business here.

It’s not really an overly ambitious notion. Some 85 years ago, the United States established the Works Progress Administration, a massive public works initiative that helped lift the country out of the Great Depression. Bold action by New York now might set the model for the nation, and keep us from entering another dark era of economic stagnation.