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Fix Erie County roads

Construction may be a common sight around Western New York at this time of year, but many residents want to see more still.
HAMBURG — By now, Erie County drivers know the drill. Turn on the car, buckle up and grit your teeth, because you’re probably in for a bumpy ride. A harsh winter wreaked havoc on our roads, many of which had already been left unrepaired last year, leaving chasms in some areas that could eat the average Smart car in one bite.

I worked in Springville last winter, and became quite adept at dodging the potholes, or shall we say, pot-cravices that dotted Route 219 SOuthbound. That road, mercifully, is currently under heavy construction, leaving snaking trials of cars in its wake. But there are many roads that are virtually unpassable because of harsh winter’s effects, and it’s time to change that, for the people who live there, who work there, who want to travel there and for all of us, because we all deserbe the quality of infrastructure we’re paying taxes to provide.

The Erie County Legislature announced that $5 million has been allocated for additional road work this year. At the May 22 session, the legislature unanimously approved a resolution to transfer the $5 million from the undesignated fund balance, which currently totals $89 million, to the general fund.

The Legislature’s Majority Caucus urged the county executive to immediately assign the funding to projects that his administration has identified as necessary and include them in this year’s construction list.

“The county executive’s plan for repairing roads this year simply doesn’t go far enough, based on the large volume of roadways that need repair,” said Chairman John Mills. “This additional $5 million will allow the county to repair more of the roadways that the residents are fed up with having to drive on. We believe that this additional funding is critical and taxpayers deserve to have as many repairs completed as possible.

“The county has an outstanding [department of public works] crew that is ready to work and the legislature supports spending additional funding to allow crews to complete more projects,” he noted.

“Spending a small percentage of the fund balance on road repair, during a time when our roads are in dismal condition, is not only appropriate but critical. The county executive said that this past winter greatly impacted our roadways and I think we have to acknowledge that fact with a real response and spend the $5 million on more projects. The county executive can’t tell residents that there are road issues, but not offer residents a full investment from our county resources,” said Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo.

That response has been a long time coming. The Majority Caucus called a special session on April 24, 2014, to expedite the approval process and get crews to work as soon as possible. At that session, the legislature approved $27.1 million in funding, paid for through federal, state and county money. Recognizing that the county should spend more on its infrastructure and assets, the Majority Caucus put forward a resolution to spend the additional $5 million this year.

“There is no question that more roadways need to be repaired. Residents rely on a solid infrastructure for their daily commutes and it is our job to provide that. A major factor in revitalizing our local economy is improving and maintaining our infrastructure. We have the ability to invest the $5 million this year into critical repairs. If the county executive chooses not to spend these funds now, the cost of repairs will increase next year because the deterioration will continue to expand,” said Legislator Edward Rath, Chairman of the Economic Development Committee.

According to the Erie County Charter, to appropriate fund balance as revenue, the legislature must have two-thirds approval, which is eight votes.

According to a representative for the legislature, it’s up to the Erie County Executive to decide which projects are worth the buck.

“The Legislature allocates the funds, however, it is up to the county executive as to how the funding will be spent. Each year, the administration creates a road project list with the list of specific projects and the dollar amount assigned to them. This year, the road project List totaled $27 million and included these projects,” that representative explained. “What the Legislature did was allocate additional funds, beyond the $27 million, for the projects not included in that list. However, imagine the $27 million mark as an imaginary line. There are projects identified beyond that point, but the lack of funding didn’t allow them to be on the released list. The administration formulates and controls the total project list and should have identified additional projects that this funding can be spent on. The legislature requested those details at the May 15 committee meeting, however it has not yet been produced. We are hoping that the administration identifies those projects soon.”

We hope so, too. We hope so too.

And once those funds are dedicated, how do we know those repairs will happen, and that they’ll be appropriately allocated to the roads that need it most? Many local municipalities are skeptical, especially the town of Boston, which put the Erie County Highway Department on notice, during its May 21 meeting.

Highway Superintendent Robert Telaak spoke up to bring to the public’s attention to the current condition of county roads within the town of Boston, at that meeting.

“I think it’s time to put the Erie County Highway Department on notice, once again, for unsafe roads, unsafe shoulders, unsafe ditches and unsafe trees,” said Telaak. “The county roads in our town are a mess. Every road in town needs work, and I don’t see the county doing anything. So, I think the town board should make a motion to have Town Attorney [Mike] Kobiolka send the county a notice and put them on notice.”

Telaak was not alone in making these observations, as Councilman Jay Boardway added his thoughts, as well. “Likewise, I also recommend the highway superintendent’s recommendation on this,” the councilman said. “The county highways in this town are atrocious, and I believe probably every member of this board, possibly the town clerk’s office, and the highway superintendent also, on numerous occasions, has made reports to the county, regarding the condition of our roads.”

Right now, Erie County residents are playing two waiting games: Waiting to hear where funds will be allocated, and waiting in long lines of winding traffic, through those areas that have undertaken construction. Despite the frustration of the latter, we Western New York drivers would prefer to wait in construction lines than ruin our tires bumping through potholes that could swallow most hamlets.

There are those who have said that there are two seasons in Western New York: winter and construction. Take notice, Erie County. Those of us in beaten-up areas are licking our bruises from a harsh winter, but bumping over roads that still bear the same scars isn’t helping. Bring us into the next season, Mark Poloncarz. Let’s see some construction cones.

If you’d like to voice your opinion, send an email to the Erie County executive, to your legislator or even your town representatives. Put your government to work for you, and ensure your tax dollars go where they’re most needed.

But when driving through those roadways that are under construction, don’t forget to exercise caution. According to the Centers for Disease Control, averaged 778 from 1994 through 1999, 1060 from 2000 through 2006, and 669 from 2007 through 2012. Fatalities in construction and maintenance work zones reach a peak of 1,095 in 2003, declining to 609 in 2012. Texas, California, and Florida ranked as the three states with the most motor vehicle crash fatalities in construction and maintenance work zones in 2012—each with at least 50 deaths.

In New York state, it’s the law to move over for construction or emergency vehicles, and disobeying posted speed signs can result in a license suspension. In areas that have not yet been addressed, use caution and a prudent speed when approaching uneven road surfaces, potholes or even wet surfaces. Many drivers forget that rain can be just as slippery as snow, especially those spring showers that can come fast, hard and unexpectedly. In fresh construction zones, watch for recently-chipped surfaces or sealant that may be slippery or may not be completely dry, as those can also fly up and cause a potential hazard. And finally, if you’re in Hamburg this weekend, watch for cyclists on the road. There will be a bicycle race in Boston on Saturday and throughout the village on Sunday, and increased numbers of cyclists will be taking to the streets, starting as early as Thursday or Friday. Watch for cyclists darting around parked cars, crossing streets or traveling where they may not be typical, and avoid collision for a safe and exciting race weekend.
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