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Local labor and elected leaders urge Capitol Hill to act and pass infrastructure bill

Infrastructure Rally, September 17, 2021
Michael Mroziak, WBFO News
Sam Capitano of the Upstate New York Laborers District Council speaks during a rally in Buffalo urging passage of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Among those standing by listening are Congressman Brian Higgins, CAHill TECH chief executive officer Carley Hill, and State Senator Tim Kennedy.

Lawmakers and laborers came together outside the DL&W Terminal construction site Friday, urging the federal government to pass a five-year, trillion-dollar infrastructure rebuilding plan.

The terminal is in the midst of a $52 million public infrastructure project. Congressman Brian Higgins supports passage of the $1 trillion plan now before Congress.

After noting the last significant infrastructure spending bill was passed in the era of President George W. Bush, a $350 billion plan in 2005, he says the nation’s infrastructure is in serious need of upgrades.

“We were at one time number one in infrastructure in the world. We’re now about 18. That is unacceptable and this bill should change that,” Higgins said. “We have 104 structurally deficient bridges, right here in Western New York, and tens of thousands throughout the nation.”

More than one hundred laborers and building trade workers joined Higgins and State Senator Tim Kennedy near the DL&W site. So, too, did Carley Hill of Associated General Contractors of New York, and chief executive officer of CAHill TECH. After growing up and advancing in the workforce as a laborer, she’s now a small business owner. Hill noted that economic growth is happening, in New York State and in other states.

But, she added, it’s not realizing its full potential because aging infrastructure is holding that back.

“The backbone of our nation, our community, is its roads, its bridges, the grid. Our society must have things like high speed connectivity and safe travel,” Hill said. “This bill doesn't just represent an investment in infrastructure. It represents an investment in America. We are the home of opportunity.”

Supporters of the infrastructure bill say new public investment will mean quality, steady jobs that will help the region in its recovery. Those present Friday say another key to that recovery is bringing in new laborers into the fold.

When it was time to organize those in attendance for a news conference, it was the boisterous voice of Sam Capitano who brought the background chatter to a halt and the bodies toward the rear of the podium. The business manager of the Upstate New York Laborers’ District Council used that same voice for another call: to encourage more young people to consider careers in building trades, and for their mentors to support it.

“We need help from our administrators in schools, our guidance counselors, to start directing our workers, our students to the trades. These are viable, viable careers. These aren’t just fly by night and fleeting jobs. These are careers,” he said. “And you could see that we're all aging here. We need to replenish our ranks. And we need our kids today to understand, you could earn while you learn in the construction industry. And this investment builds the middle class, and we need to refocus on our middle class here in our community.”

Higgins, for one, would have like a larger infrastructure bill and suggests he’ll try to have more money added to what’s under consideration now. He argues public investments in infrastructure lead to private business investments.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.