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State pressed to give WNY roads fair share

A bipartisan group of Erie County legislators Tuesday called for a more equitable distribution of state road and bridge funds, claiming that current dollars allocated for Western New York are insufficient to the point of proving harmful.

The Legislature's three Republicans -- Edward A. Rath III, Raymond W. Walter and John J. Mills -- were joined at a morning news conference in County Hall by Democrat Timothy M. Kennedy to announce they have introduced a resolution in the Legislature to support their case.

"It is of great importance that Western New York receives its fair share of road and bridge funding from New York State," Mills said. "This is a public safety issue. Putting less money into these projects while our roads and bridges are crumbling is not acceptable, and the taxpayers are suffering."

The legislators pointed out that the state has historically funded Region 5 (Erie, Niagara, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties) with more than 9 percent of total Department of Transportation dollars. Now they say funding has dropped to as low as 4.4 percent of the road and bridge project allocation statewide.

Part of their appeal Tuesday was to state legislators they say can address the problem in Albany.

"I am hopeful that our New York State elected officials will respond to the reduction in funding in the Western New York region and right this wrong," Walter said. "Our community is heavily dependent on the county and state road and highway systems, which have become run down and, in some cases, dangerous."

"This is not a Democrat or a Republican issue, but rather it is an issue of equity," Kennedy added. "New York State needs to start treating Western New York on an even keel with the rest of the state, especially given the difficult economic times this region is digging itself out from."

Legislators also note that Region 5 is scheduled to receive only 6.7 percent of federal stimulus money earmarked for road and bridge projects in New York State. If the funds were allocated on the basis of lane-miles or traditional funding levels, Western New York would receive an additional $30 million to repair its transportation infrastructure, they said.

"The funding allocation for road and bridge projects ignores the need for economic growth and the public safety of Western New Yorkers," said Rath, who is lead sponsor of the resolution. "New York State must adjust the allocations to more fairly address the needs of our region and help spur economic growth both here and across the state."

e-mail: rmccarthy@buffnews.com

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