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Cattaraugus legislators approve agreement on Route 219 bridge

The Cattaraugus County Legislature Wednesday voted to take partial responsibility – along with Erie County – for the proposed Old Route 219 replacement bridge over Cattaraugus Creek.

As a result, the state will pick up the $20 million cost of removing the current span and constructing a replacement, a proposal that would have been in jeopardy if Cattaraugus County declined to sign off on the deal.

The action drew praise from State Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Olean, who said, “I applaud the Cattaraugus County Legislature for giving the green light for the old Route 219 bridge replacement. Construction of a new state-of-the-art bridge will be extremely beneficial to Western New York because it will stimulate economic growth by creating new, good-paying jobs and providing greater access to broadband service, preserve the local economy and give residents on both sides of the Cattaraugus Creek access to emergency care and shopping they need and deserve.”

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz signed off on the agreement with the state two weeks ago. He expressed confidence Cattaraugus County would follow suit after Young and State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, secured $300,000 in maintenance funding for the bridge over the first 24 years of its anticipated 75-year lifespan.

Legislators Carl Edwards, R-Limestone, and David M. Koch, D-Salamanca, voted against the agreement, expressing concern about the costs that will stretch out over years.

“We will take over maintenance costs for 75 years, costing our children and grandchildren,” Koch said.

But Legislator William Sprague, D-Yorkshire, who owns several businesses in Erie County, said he feels it will be good for Cattaraugus County and asked that his name be added as a sponsor to the resolution.

Officials in both counties initially rejected the state’s plan to turn over to them ownership of the proposed new span, fearing the high maintenance costs that would come with that ownership. The current bridge, which spans the Cattaraugus Creek gorge, is 652 feet from end to end, and 200 feet over the Zoar Valley below.

As an inducement to both counties, the state Department of Transportation also agreed to pick up costs for the first 10 years of bridge-washing on the new span and pay for ordinary bridge maintenance costs that exceed the state’s estimated costs for keeping the bridge in shape. In addition, the state’s offer to construct cable conduits along the bridge at an added cost of $30,000 to $50,000 were intended as an inducement for Cattaraugus County.

Had either county rejected the state’s offer to take ownership of the proposed new replacement bridge, the span would not have been built and the state likely would have taken action to transfer ownership of the old bridge to the counties.

The current span, built in 1953, is now overshadowed by the adjacent Route 219 Expressway bridge, which was completed in 2009. However, the old bridge remains vital for local businesses along Old Route 219.

Cattaraugus County Correspondent L.A. Zendarsky contributed to this report. email: hmcneil@buffnews.com