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Road and bridge issues dominate legislative agenda

File photo

It's summer and as some drivers have noticed, that is when area roads and bridges and repaired or replaced and traffic is slowed. This year, there are some unusual issues, like Albany imposing a 30 mph speed limit on the Scajaquada in the wake of the recent accident which killed a three-year-old boy. County Legislator Peter Savage successfully asked other legislators Thursday to support the road being turned into a parkway instead of an expressway.

"We saw some of the public safety issues that also can follow with that. We have a good opportunity now. I applaud the state for looking at the conversion returning it to an actual parkway that will allow us to connect our park system in a way that Olmsted had envisioned. It will connect neighborhoods, East, West, North and South in a way that will not cut us off from our past," said Savage.

Albany has been studying changes in the road for a decade, with action triggered by the fatal accident where a driver went off the road and crashed into a busy area of Delaware Park.

Legislators are also being asked to take the surplus from the County Clerk's office and put it into the road fund. Right now, that surplus goes into the county general fund and is used for whatever is in the budget. The new plan would amend the charter to require the money for highways and requires a maintenance of effort to make sure the regular highway budget isn't cut to balance the new income.

The plan is considered popular, but Buffalo Common Council member David Rivera doesn't agree, saying money taken from city residents goes only for suburban roads and bridges.

"Money that was used for other things, like the arts, like culture, like Kleinhans, like the Zoo, all those institutions that all of the residents of this region, including the county and the suburbs enjoy. They come into the city and use our roads and then say it's only for the roads of people that live out in the suburbs. I think that is totally wrong. It polarizes the city and the county and I think we are beyond that," Rivera said.

Many of the issues revolve around the condition of roads and bridges after the last two winters. Erie County put significant money into rehab last year and is spending more this year. That includes the Clarence Center Road bridge, which is going to be replaced this year. County Legislator Edward Rath says he is glad to see the replacement.

"It's one of many bridges in the north end of Erie County that either need reconstruction or maintenance. I'm very proud to see that this bridge is going to be reconstructed because it's been a major nuisance for the residents of northern Erie County, as well as Niagara County," said Rath on Thursday.

Rath is looking for some other bridge replacements but county officials have said there is only enough money for a few replacements this year. The big bridge project revolves around the old Route 219 bridge carrying the old road across Cattaraugus Creek between Erie and Cattaraugus counties.

The bridge has been bypassed by the new 219 and the state threatened to let it go unless the two counties agreed to take over maintenance. If they did, the state would build a new bridge first and then leave it for future maintenance. Legislature Majority Leader Joseph Lorigo was a lone voice against the project.

"Outrageous. We have discussions on economic impact, how this impacts Southern Erie County, Cattaraugus County and the entire Southern Tier. And, I don't disagree. I don't disagree whatsoever. But for our state representatives to come to Erie County and Cattaraugus County and basically hold a gun to our heads, saying that if we don't approve this they are going to let the bridge go and its going to be gone, I don't believe it for a second," said Lorigo.

Since Cattaraugus County has also approved the deal, Governor Andrew Cuomo says construction on the new bridge will start late this year and take about two years to build. The deal puts $300,000 into a fund for future maintenance, over what Lorigo says will be 75 years.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.