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We're all in the same boat ? the roads aren't getting any better and nothing is getting any younger.

Highway funds in doubt

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With winter fast approaching and the construction season coming to an end, highway superintendents in the North Country are wondering how they will fund critical bridge and road projects next year.

The New York State County Highway Superintendents Association issued a statement this week saying many local governments don't have enough funds to pay for crucial bridge and road projects.

As Chris Morris reports, some of the most highly traveled roads in the Adirondacks are sliding into disrepair.

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Reported by

Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

Tony LaVigne is superintendent of the Essex County Department of Public Works. He says funding for bridge and road projects through the DOT’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program has been stagnant in recent years – and prospects for next year are looking grim.

LaVigne adds that his department isn’t able to keep up with aging roads in Essex County. “There hasn’t been any cost-of-living or inflation increases with the funding their doling out,” he said. “As the price of material goes up, the state is keeping up. That’s part of the shortfall. The funds I have aren’t sufficient to have what I call a ‘turn around’ on a road (EDIT) I’m losing ground. We’re doing a lot more maintenance than actual road construction.”

According to LaVigne, patchwork jobs will extend a road’s life by seven or eight years. A full-on reconstruction project extends a road’s life by approximately 15 years.

Craig Donaldson is highway superintendent for the town of Harrietstown. He notes that this year, the town received the same amount of CHIPs funding as the previous year – and his crews were able to complete some work on local roadways.

But the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis has Donaldson looking to the future with a wary eye. “Within two years, unless something changes, we could be looking at losing that funding,” he said. “That would be a bad thing for any township or county – a lot of towns rely on that funding to do paving. We were able to do summer work and summer projects, and I’m hoping next year will be the same, but I don’t know after that.”

Last spring, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall authored a letter to the DOT that was signed by Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau and North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi. The three local leaders called for the state to do something about the deplorable condition of state Route 86, which runs between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

Randall notes its one of the most heavily-traveled corridors in the Adirondack Park and in dire need of repairs. The DOT responded to the letter, and Randall was not pleased with the answer. “We received a response from our DOT Region 1 director, a woman from Albany, who said, basically, there’s no money, don’t hold your breath – there are other roads just as bad,” Randall said. “Unless the federal government releases some transportation funding, there is no money.”

Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney points out that some 86 percent of roads in New York are locally maintained. About 51 percent of bridges are maintained at the town and county level. Sweeney says municipalities are fighting for all available funds in order to keep roads safe for motorists.  “Every dollar counts,” he said. “It’s obvious – we’re all hurting for the same thing and if that CHIPs money gets touched, it hurts everyone.

Tony LaVigne is superintendent of the Essex County Department of Public Works. He says funding for bridge and road projects through the DOT’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program has been stagnant in recent years – and prospects for next year are looking grim.

LaVigne adds that his department isn’t able to keep up with aging roads in Essex County. “There hasn’t been any cost-of-living or inflation increases with the funding their doling out,” he said. “As the price of material goes up, the state is keeping up. That’s part of the shortfall. The funds I have aren’t sufficient to have what I call a ‘turn around’ on a road (EDIT) I’m losing ground. We’re doing a lot more maintenance than actual road construction.”

According to LaVigne, patchwork jobs will extend a road’s life by seven or eight years. A full-on reconstruction project extends a road’s life by approximately 15 years.

Craig Donaldson is highway superintendent for the town of Harrietstown. He notes that this year, the town received the same amount of CHIPs funding as the previous year – and his crews were able to complete some work on local roadways.

But the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis has Donaldson looking to the future with a wary eye. “Within two years, unless something changes, we could be looking at losing that funding,” he said. “That would be a bad thing for any township or county – a lot of towns rely on that funding to do paving. We were able to do summer work and summer projects, and I’m hoping next year will be the same, but I don’t know after that.”

Last spring, Lake Placid Mayor Craig Randall authored a letter to the DOT that was signed by Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau and North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi. The three local leaders called for the state to do something about the deplorable condition of state Route 86, which runs between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

Randall notes its one of the most heavily-traveled corridors in the Adirondack Park and in dire need of repairs. The DOT responded to the letter, and Randall was not pleased with the answer. “We received a response from our DOT Region 1 director, a woman from Albany, who said, basically, there’s no money, don’t hold your breath – there are other roads just as bad,” Randall said. “Unless the federal government releases some transportation funding, there is no money.”

Saranac Lake Village Manager John Sweeney points out that some 86 percent of roads in New York are locally maintained. About 51 percent of bridges are maintained at the town and county level. Sweeney says municipalities are fighting for all available funds in order to keep roads safe for motorists.  “Every dollar counts,” he said. “It’s obvious – we’re all hurting for the same thing and if that CHIPs money gets touched, it hurts everyone. We’re all in the same boat – the roads aren’t getting any better and nothing is getting any younger. In essence, the state is looking to take that money, right? It doesn’t help any of us.”

With the demolition of the Lake Champlain Bridge still fresh in the minds of North Country residents, Essex County’s LaVigne notes that roads aren’t even the top priority of highway departments in northern New York. “There’s a bridge inspection system that is required by the federal government, so if a bridge is flagged, any state funds I have go to that project,” he said. “Whatever is left goes to roads.”

Town and county highway superintendents are calling on the state to streamline its Dedicated Highway and Bridge Trust Fund, noting that over the last two decades, less than 35 percent of those funds were actually invested in capital projects.

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