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New York’s roads in deep rut, ranked 45th in nation

The condition of New York’s state highways and roads ranks 45th in the United States, and they’re getting worse, according to a new analysis by a libertarian think tank.

New York has the sixth-worst rating in the country for “highway performance” and cost-effectiveness, according to the Reason Foundation’s 22nd annual Highway Report.

Yet it’s not as if New York isn’t spending big money on roads and bridges. In July, state leaders signed a five-year agreement to spend $27.1 billion over the next five years on projects planned by the Department of Transportation or the Thruway Authority. The list covers 71 pages totaling more than 2,400 projects, including well over 300 in Western New York.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and legislative leaders also agreed to send local governments $3.4 billion in aid for road and bridge repairs from this year through 2020.

But many contend it’s not enough. The foundation report ranked New York 46th among the 50 states in highway spending per mile of road.

“In general, I think the roads we travel on are worse than the ones we drove on years ago,” said David J. Miller, Town of Lockport highway superintendent.

The reason, according to Miller, is simple: Highway budgets aren’t keeping pace with highway costs.

“Budgets always seem to stay the same. No one wants to see an increase, but the materials and the labor keep going up,” Miller said.

Miller said it costs about $125,000 to simply put a fresh coat of asphalt on a mile of pavement, while a ballpark figure for a complete road reconstruction is $1 million per mile, a cost that escalates if the project gets complicated. For example, the cost of reconstructing slightly over a mile of Lincoln Avenue in Lockport last year – which included moving water and sewer lines, adding left-turn lanes at intersections and constructing new sidewalks – came in at $7.25 million.

And in Buffalo and across Western New York, hundreds of complicated – and expensive – projects are on the state’s five-year to-do list, including $30 million for the makeover of Route 198 between Delaware Avenue and Parkside Avenue in Buffalo; $18.3 million to return cars to lower Main Street; $17.6 million to repave Interstate 990; $16.4 million to repave Bailey Avenue in Buffalo; $10.4 million for two new bridges on Interstate 290; and $18.8 million to replace the Red House Bridge over the Allegheny River in Cattaraugus County.

The Reason Foundation analysis ranks state-controlled roads in 11 categories, including pavement and bridge conditions, spending, traffic congestion and fatality rates. It is based on 2013 state data reported to the federal government and 2014 traffic congestion data from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute.

The analysis does not include data for local or county roads, which means it leaves out most of the pavement across the state. Jeffrey Griswold, president of the New York State Association of Town Superintendents of Highways, said in a June news release, that town highway departments were responsible for “nearly 70 percent of the state’s public roads, a quarter of local bridges, and plowing not only this huge system but also a portion of the New York State Department of Transportation’s roads.”

The Town of Tonawanda Highway Department, for example, is responsible for clearing 414 lane miles of town-owned roads and 63 miles of Erie County roads but no state roads.

Superintendent William E. Swanson would like to reconstruct some of the town’s roads and curbs, many of which were built in the 1950s and are now between 60 and 70 years old. But the money just is not there.

“The costs are going up but budgets haven’t gotten any bigger at all,” he said. “We’re getting behind the eight-ball.”

The town’s budget for road projects gets about half its money from the state’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, also known as CHIPS, and half from local taxes. Swanson said those sources have remained flat since he became superintendent in 2011, although the town did get an $80,000 boost in state aid this year. But even $1 million wouldn’t reconstruct a half-mile of road because of curbs, underground drain tile and other complications, he said.

It means the best the town can do each year is mill the worst streets with its milling machine and put down a layer of binder and a top coat of asphalt.

“We’re putting a Band-Aid over all the streets,” Swanson said.

Overall, the Empire State ranked 44th in 2011 and 43rd in 2012, according to the think tank’s analysis.

New York fared best in categories that included pavement condition on rural arterial roads. It scored worst in “urbanized area congestion” and maintenance disbursements per mile.

In the foundation’s report, the condition of New York’s bridges ranked 47th out of the 50 states,

South Carolina, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska and Maine came out on top of the Reason Foundation’s road condition list, while Alaska, New Jersey, Hawaii, Rhode Island and Massachusetts were the only states doing worse than New York.

New York has the nation’s 14th-largest system of state-controlled roads and highways, according to the report.

“We’ve definitely got an issue,” said Swanson. “The infrastructure in Western New York is in rough shape. There’s no doubt about that.”

News Staff Reporter Joseph Popiolkowski contributed to this report. email: abesecker@buffnews.com and tprohaska@buffnews.com

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