Preliminary Guide to Environmental Sources
Current Functions. The Department of Transportation is responsible for planning, construction, maintenance, and supervision for New York's transportation network and infrastructure, including the State and local highway systems, canal system, five major ports, bus lines and public transportation organizations, and public and private airports. To fulfill these functions, the department engages in a number of activities, including coordinating and developing transportation policy and planning; coordinating and assisting in the planning, construction, maintenance, repair, and operation of transportation facilities and services, including highway, canal, rail, mass transit, port, and aviation facilities; planning for development of public and private commuter and general transportation facilities; administering a public safety program for rail and motor carriers in intrastate commerce; regulating rates and services of transportation corporations in the public interest; and investigating accidents on public transportation systems and evaluating the safety of such systems.
Organizational History. The origins of this department can be traced to the Dutch office of surveyor general established in 1642 to survey the lands of the Province of New Netherland. The office was continued under the British colonial government and reestablished after New York became a State (Laws of 1781, Chapter 32). The surveyor general was appointed by the Council of Appointment until 1821, when the new constitution provided for election by the legislature. Surveying the public lands continued to be the principal function of the office.
The major State involvement in transportation in the 19th century was the development of the canal system. Commissioners were appointed in 1810 and 1811 to report on possibilities for inland navigation in the State. In 1816 (Chapter 237), the legislature appointed five commissioners to oversee construction of a canal between the Hudson River and the Great Lakes. The following year (Laws of 1817, Chapter 262), the commissioners were made a permanent Board of Canal Commissioners, authorized to build canals between the Hudson River and Lake Erie, with branches to Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario. The same law established the commissioners of the canal fund, including the surveyor general, to administer a Canal Fund derived from canal tolls, other State revenues, and donations of land. After completion of the Erie Canal in 1825, legislation established a Canal Board comprised of the canal commissioners and the commissioners of the canal fund to fix tolls, make regulations, and hire employees (Laws of 1826, Chapter 314).
The Constitution of 1846 established the office of state engineer and surveyor. This office assumed the duties of the abolished surveyor general and was also given responsibility for carrying out engineering and surveying work on the canals. The Canal Board continued to appoint division canal superintendents and staff, but these people were to work at the direction of the state engineer and surveyor (Laws of 1848, Chapter 72).
An 1876 constitutional amendment abolished the canal commissioners and created the office of superintendent of public works, appointed by the governor. The superintendent was charged with executing all laws relating to canal maintenance and navigation except for those functions performed by the state engineer and surveyor, who continued to prepare maps, plans, and estimates for canal construction and improvement. The Canal Board (now consisting of the superintendent of public works, the state engineer and surveyor, and the commissioners of the canal fund) continued to handle hiring of employees and other personnel matters. The Barge Canal Law of 1903 (Chapter 147) directed the Canal Board to oversee the enlargement of and improvements to the Erie, Champlain, and Oswego canals.
The Department of Highways was established in 1908 (Chapter 330) to supervise bridges and highways financed by State funds. The department was originally headed by three commissioners appointed by the governor. A 1911 law (Chapter 646) designated the superintendent of highways, state engineer and surveyor, and superintendent of public works as highway commissioners. In 1913 (Chapter 80), a single highway commissioner replaced the three commissioners.
A 1923 law (Chapter 867) established the Department of Public Works, headed by the superintendent of public works. This department consolidated the offices of the superintendent of public works; superintendent and trustees of public buildings (established by Laws of 1909, Chapter 48, to care for all State buildings in Albany); Department of Highways; and Commission on Boundary Waters between the United States and Canada (created in 1920 to study the feasibility of a bridge between the United States and Canada; this commission included the state engineer and surveyor, superintendent of public works, and several other State officials).
Pursuant to the constitutional reorganization of State government in 1925-26, the Canal Board and the state engineer and surveyor were abolished and their functions assigned to the Department of Public Works. The commissioners of the canal fund were abolished, and responsibility for the fund was transferred to the Department of Audit and Control.
Enabling legislation in 1926 (Chapter 348) established five divisions in the Department of Public Works: canals and waterways, highways, public building, engineering, and architecture. The department also absorbed the former Department of Architecture (created as the office of state architect in 1899 as the successor to the Office of Capitol Commissioner, then established as a department by Laws of 1914, Chapter 111, to prepare plans and specifications for State buildings); Bureau of Housing and Regional Planning (established within the Department of Architecture by Laws of 1923, Chapter 694); Salt Water Bays Commission (established in 1923 to survey waters of eastern Long Island); and Office of Harbor Masters (appointed by the governor after 1911 to regulate vessels in certain port cities north of New York City).
The Department of Public Works was reorganized in 1943 into three divisions: administration, construction, and operation and maintenance. An architecture division was added in 1955 and a finance and planning division in 1964.
The Department of Public Works was abolished in 1967 (Chapter 717), and its responsibilities for transportation planning, construction, and operation, including maintenance of the State Barge Canal System, were transferred to the new Department of Transportation. Also assigned to the new department were the duties and staff of the Office of Transportation (established in the Executive Department in 1959 to advise the governor on transportation policy); the duties and staff of the State Traffic Commission (created in 1936 to regulate traffic lights and signs, highway speeds, and safety programs); and the aviation functions of the Department of Commerce. Flood control, shore protection, and beach erosion control functions formerly exercised by the Department of Public Works were transferred to the Conservation Department. The duties and functions of the Architecture Division were transferred to the Office of General Services. In 1971, the department assumed from the Public Service Commission the regulatory functions relating to common carriers.
DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
|General Agency-level Records|
|B1580||Meeting minutes and issues files of the Adirondack
Highway Council, 1977-1984.
2 cu. ft.
|Legal Services Bureau|
|13430||Files of the chairman of the task force investigating
Love Canal, 1978-1985.
83 cu. ft.