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GOP questions whether all Erie County road and bridge projects will be completed this year

Nearly $30 million in road and bridge work could be approved by the Erie County Legislature on Thursday, following a public hearing Monday.

But members of the Legislature’s Republican-aligned majority already are questioning whether all of that work planned for this year will be completed.

Despite a $8.3 million funding increase for roads and bridges this year, the majority members used an informational meeting last Thursday to question the priorities of the Poloncarz administration and the timetable for the work.

“I was expecting them to have specific answers about the projects that were listed in that omnibus resolution,” Majority Leader Joseph C. Lorigo, C-West Seneca, said after the meeting, referring to the $29.4 million package.

“One of my concerns,” he said, “was the Girdle Road Bridge in Elma. It’s slated for $1.8 million worth of work, but we’ve been hearing that it may not get completed in 2015.”

Deputy Commissioner of Highways William Geary said that fluctuating steel prices could result in the project not being finished this year.

“With regard to the bridges, there’s some stuff that is out of our control; that’s the steel,” Geary said. “Until we get that bid out, we can’t get a bid schedule from where the steel is going to come from.”

Deputy Budget Director Timothy C. Callan, who accompanied Geary and Public Works Commissioner John C. Loffredo to last week’s session, said a great deal of effort will be put into completing all of the projects.

“All of the projects that are on here, we’re attending to, and the projects will be started,” Callan said.

“In the case of something like the Girdle Road Bridge, where we have $1.8 million of surplus transfer tax (revenues) to be used for that, due to price of steel, it may not be done this year, but work will be started,” he added. “Every one of those projects on here, if we say we’re doing them, we’re doing them.”

In addition to bridges, the county owns and maintains 2,400 lane-miles of road, several of which are slated for milling and overlay work, micropaving and reconstruction. This year’s proposed $29.4 million highway package is $8.3 million higher than last year’s. In his 2015 budget proposal, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz allocated about $21 million in funding for roads and bridges.

“We added $8.3 million of additional work,” Callan said.

The package includes a mix of funding sources. At Monday’s public hearing, lawmakers will be seeking comment on plans to appropriate $10.8 million in real estate transfer tax revenue from the county’s 2015 road repair reserve fund, along with $2.47 million in transfer tax surplus funds from 2014.

In 2014, the Legislature unanimously voted to appropriate $5 million from the county’s $90 million reserve fund, or surplus, to pay for additional road repair projects. Lorigo said that tapping into the fund balance this year also is a possibility.

“We used $4.5 million of $5 million last year,” Lorigo said. “If we do get into a situation where we do need to spend more money, it’s something that we’ll have to look into.”

The public hearing on the spending package is set for 11:30 a.m. in the Legislature’s fourth-floor Chambers in Old County Hall, 92 Franklin St.