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Sorry state of highways in New York necessitates a renewed commitment

Anyone who has been a driver or passenger bumping along the state’s deteriorating roadways would hardly be surprised at New York’s poor ranking – 45th – in that category. Indeed, it might be difficult to find Western New Yorkers willing to agree the state should even be that high on the list.

The new analysis is contained in the 22nd annual Highway Report by the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank. The report gives New York the sixth-worst rating in the country for “highway performance” and cost-effectiveness.

The state spends a lot of money on roads and bridges, and is about to spend a lot more. State leaders agreed to spend $27.1 billion over the next five years on projects planned by the Department of Transportation or the Thruway Authority. The governor and legislative leaders have also agreed to send local governments $3.4 billion in aid for road and bridge repairs through 2020.

Some might be interested to know that the list of state projects covers 71 pages totaling more than 2,400 projects. More than 300 are in Western New York.

So why are the roads still bumpy? Quite simple. It’s not enough money. Our weather’s freeze-thaw cycle swallows road funding. Reconstructing a road costs about $1 million a mile, according to a local highway superintendent. Just a new layer of asphalt can cost $125,000 per mile. Local governments need more funding in order to fix the roads.

Highway superintendents rightly point out that their road budgets aren’t keeping pace with rising costs for materials and labor.

The problem is worsened when roads do not follow the straight and narrow. To see how quickly the money goes, just six projects on the state’s five-year list in Western New York will cost more than $110 million. The makeover of Route 198 between Delaware Avenue and Parkside Avenue in Buffalo will cost $30 million; returning cars to lower Main Street, $18.3 million; repaving Interstate 990, $17.6 million; repaving Bailey Avenue, $16.4 million; two new bridges on Interstate 290, $10.4 million; and replacing the Red House Bridge over the Allegheny River in Cattaraugus County, $18.8 million.

Worthy projects, but how to continue funding other critical roadwork? An important note is that the Reason Foundation analysis does not include data for local or county roads, which are a big part of the roads we travel on.

Local budgets for those roads are not getting any higher and, according to highway superintendents, the needs are not being met, even with money from the state’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, also known as CHIPS.

Road funding is too critical to the state economy to come up short on maintenance and repairs. The answer must be a renewed commitment by the federal and state governments.

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