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Lackawanna Council backs state takeover of Ridge Road

The Lackawanna City Council agreed Monday to back legislation in the State Senate and Assembly that would designate Ridge Road as a state highway for its 2.5-mile stretch through Lackawanna.

The move could help the cash-strapped city by shifting maintenance of the heavily trafficked thoroughfare to the state.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy, D-Buffalo, passed the Senate Transportation Committee earlier this month. Assemblyman Michael P. Kearns, D-Buffalo, sponsored similar legislation Monday.

The Senate and Assembly are scheduled to complete their legislative sessions by Thursday, so the Council waived its rules at the request of Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski to approve a "home rule message" in support of the state measure.

City leaders sought the designation as a way to keep up with the growing costs of maintaining aging infrastructure, especially after attempts to ban heavy truck traffic on Ridge Road were shot down in various courts.

Most recently, in January, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court, Fourth Judicial Department, ruled that Lackawanna cannot forbid heavy trucks from traveling on Ridge Road and South Park Avenue.

The city is hoping to be able to appeal to the state's highest court but has yet to receive word on its motion.

No matter how the legislation pans out, the city appears to be looking at a hefty bill to repair a bridge along Ridge Road that twice has been yellow-flagged by the state Department of Transportation.

The yellow flags identify "less critical conditions" that are likely to deteriorate into a significantly worse state if they are not addressed. A more serious condition, requiring an immediate fix, would result in the state issuing a red flag.

Thomas N. Love, city commissioner of public works, said the bridge will get worse, especially if it goes through another winter without repairs.

The cost of repairs is estimated at $1.3 million.

It's unclear if the state will pick up that tab, if the designation goes through.

"Even if they do designate, we've still got a long way to go in terms of working out the parameters," said City Attorney Norman LeBlanc Jr.

While the Ridge Road designation offered city taxpayers some potential relief, the Council was asked Monday to grapple with several other sizable expenditures, including the demolition of a public works building on Reddon Street, where the city's emergency equipment is stored; the purchase of garbage totes to be used citywide to help curb a growing rodent problem; and the stabilization of deteriorating banks along Smokes Creek.

Some Council members expressed frustration that the big-ticket items had not been part of the mayor's budgeting process. The mayor presented his recommended budget in May, and the Council approved a dramatically different budget on June 9.

"Not once in the budget proposal were any of these concerns identified. I have a problem with that," said 4th Ward Councilman Keith Lewis.