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State of county roads sparks war of words between Comptroller, County Executive

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

As Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw put it, the county's roads resemble third world countries. He stood alongside a Town of Boston road, joined by other elected officials and a local resident, to blast the Poloncarz Administration for what he considers an inadequate action plan to fix damaged roadways.

Mychajliw, Erie County Legislator John Mills, Town of Boston Supervisor Jason Keding and citizen Jean Washburn gathered on Zimmerman Road, not far from the intersection of Boston State Road, near a section where numerous potholes could be seen.

"We heard there's a plan to fix half of this road and these potholes and that's unacceptable," Mychajliw said. "It is absolutely, positively to only fix half of this road. Half of Zimmerman, half of Back Creek. Don't take my word for it. Look around the county. Our county roads resemble third world countries. It's embarrassing."

Acknowledging the presence of Erie County Public Works Commissioner William Geary and a spokesman from Erie County Executive Poloncarz's office, Mychajliw took aim at their boss.

"I think it's an absolute joke the County Executive is talking about fixing schools and dictating to communities about how they should consolidate when he can't even fix a pothole," Mychajliw said, referring to Poloncarz's recent discussion of exploring local school district consolidation. "It's shameful. The last thing we should do is talk about education reform when our roads and highways are an absolute disaster."

Poloncarz, earlier in the day, explained that the region's prolonged cold temperatures and snow has forced them to hold on the start of many road repairs. Geary backed that up at the scene of Mychajliw's news conference.

"The timing of this is amazing because this morning we were plowing these roads," he said. "I had twelve plows on the southern half of the county."

Erie County Public Works Commissioner William Geary addresses media following Tuesday afternoon's news conference by Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw in the Town of Boston.

Poloncarz, in anticipation of the Tuesday afternoon news conference, told reporters earlier in the day that road work is prioritized through planning by the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council. The planning includes factors such as overall road conditions, rating them on a 1-to-10 scale for level of quality, and the volume of cars that typically use each road. Busier roads get higher priority.

"We've told supervisors that and they understand. There's a few that like to grumble. So be it," Poloncarz said. "I don't think the Comptroller actually understands how we repair roads because he's saying repair this one, repair that one. You don't spend $2 million to fix a road that was just repaired three years ago because it's got a couple potholes. You can fix the potholes. You can spot patch them. You can do what's called micro-paving. We do that to make it as good as possible."

Poloncarz also stated that his administration has spent more money on roads than the previous two county executives, Chris Collins and Joel Giambra. Legislator John Mills replied by suggesting that's not entirely true."

"He has budgeted money. It has not been used completely and that's the problem," Mills said. "The Legislature, I think five or six years ago, okayed an additional five million dollars to be put into road projects. He reluctantly said 'OK, I'll do that,' but he's the guy who can spend it. We can't spend it, we can just OK it."

Mills is personally funding a limited number of road signs reading 'Poloncarz Fix This Road Now' that he is distributing through his district office. 

Mychajliw was asked if his news conference and his criticism of county road conditions could be read as a possible sign of interest in running against Poloncarz next year. He replied "maybe, maybe not," telling reporters he will think about his future and discuss it with his family, which recently welcomed a newborn son. 

He insisted that his interest in the condition of county roads was not motivated by politics but a response to the initial contact by concerned citizen Jean Washburn. Washburn, who has lived in the Town of Boston for more than 60 years, says Zimmerman is a road used by both vehicles and pedestrians.

"I feel they need to do a total reconstruction this time, to make to roadway and the shoulders, as they should have been for many years," Washburn said.

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.
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