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State makes new offer for upkeep of new bridge over Cattaraugus gorge

Top transportation officials from New York State, Erie and Cattaraugus counties huddled in Buffalo on Thursday to consider Albany’s new and “unprecedented” offer on how to deal with 75 years of maintenance costs on a new $20 million bridge over the Cattaraugus Creek gorge.

And while no agreement was reached, all those involved in the talks called them productive in addressing a complicated situation in which both sides seek to avoid decades of as many maintenance costs as possible on such a massive structure.

According to a state official familiar with the negotiations, state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald and representatives of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo offered a new formula to end a standoff that has threatened state plans for the new span on Old Route 219 south of Springville between Erie and Cattaraugus counties. The idea, the official said, is to expand the state’s original offer of an overall $300,000 maintenance fund to cover anything above the projected maintenance costs for each year of the agreement as determined by the state.

The bridge’s life span is estimated at 75 years.

While Erie and Cattaraugus counties have balked at the extraordinary maintenance costs expected on a bridge stretching 652 feet in length and 200 feet over the Zoar Valley below, Albany officials say the deal to assume additional maintenance on an annual basis has never before been extended to a local road off the state system.

“Although the current bridge lies on a route no longer connected to the state system, the state has offered unprecedented financial support to build the new bridge at no cost to the local governments, and will provide financial assurances for future maintenance costs,” said DOT spokeswoman Jennifer Post. “The New York State commissioner of transportation and other state senior administration officials have been working with the county and local officials in good faith to resolve the Route 219 bridge situation, understanding the importance of it to the local community.”

Another state source described its offer as “bending over backwards for the counties.”

Peter Anderson, spokesman for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, called the lengthy meeting in the Rath County Office Building “very productive,” but noted no agreement was reached.

“New York State presented a counterproposal to Erie and Cattaraugus counties that is currently being considered,” he said.

Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, also attended the meeting and called it productive.

“Everybody agreed we need to do this in a timely fashion,” he said, ”recognizing it’s important and that we’re getting into construction season.”

Deputy County Executive Maria R. Whyte led the negotiations for the county, Anderson said.

State officials, meanwhile, said they were seeking a compromise to negate the possibility that, without a deal, money earmarked for the massive structure would be diverted to other projects around the state.

“We want to show them we are serious and want to make this work,” the state official said.

The nearby new Route 219 Expressway bridge built over the gorge in 2009 is now considered the state road serving the area.

The new position negotiated by both sides on Wednesday counters an earlier offer by the counties for about $1 million annually over 75 years, reflecting the significant costs that both entities have insisted they cannot afford.

“This bridge in no way, shape or form compares with anything in our inventory,” Cattaraugus County Administrator John Searles said last week.

Those involved with the negotiations say there is no timetable for resumption of talks, but one source said it is expected some type of agreement must be reached within the next few days to allow construction and its 280 associated jobs to proceed.