Highway supers, state lawmakers seek more funding for local roads

Photo courtesy of Sen. O’Mara’s Office
Senator Tom O’Mara, at podium, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, left, joined legislative colleagues and local transportation leaders from across New York state at a recent “Local Roads Matter” rally in the state Capitol.

A group of state legislators, organized by Sen. Tom O’Mara, R-Big Flats, and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano, R-Corning, stood with a statewide coalition of county and town highway superintendents and other local officials in the Capitol to call for more state resources for local roads, bridges and culverts.

Calls to increase funding the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) filled the Million Dollar Staircase in the Capitol on Wednesday, March 6. Members of the “Local Roads Matter” coalition have been gathering annually in Albany to call attention to local infrastructure.

This year the group is calling for increasing state base aid for the CHIPS program by $150 million to a total of $588 million. They are also seeking the restoration of a $65-million “Extreme Winter Recovery” allocation enacted last year but not included in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2019-2020 state budget.

The road crews and local officials note that municipalities own and maintain 87 percent of the roads in the state, own and maintain 52 percent of New York’s 18,000 bridges, and that 48 percent of the vehicle miles driven in the state are on local roads.

In a March 4 letter to Cuomo and legislative leaders, O’Mara, Palmesano and other lawmakers wrote, “Local governments, for the foreseeable future, will continue to struggle to address budgetary demands in the face of the state-imposed property tax cap, rising pension and health care costs, and unfunded state mandates, among other burdens.

“Furthermore, despite the state’s increased commitment to CHIPS since 2013, base aid has remained stagnant over the past seven years. There is clearly a compelling case for New York state to take these proposed steps to address urgent local transportation and infrastructure shortcomings, and we believe it is simply the right thing to do.”

An October 2017 report from state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that bridges owned by local governments currently need an estimated $27.4 billion in repairs. An earlier report from the comptroller called 32 percent of New York’s local bridges deficient and 40 percent of local roads fair or poor, and getting worse.

“Fixing local roads and bridges is similar to repairing the roof or replacing windows on your home. You don’t do it because you want to, you do it because you have to,” said Patrick Mahar, the Highway Superintendent for the town of Denmark in Lewis County. “Businesses need to receive goods, children need to get to school and emergency vehicles need to be able to provide assistance — practically every facet of our daily lives utilizes our local infrastructure system.”