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New bridge for Old Route 219 too important to be lost to a dispute over paying for maintenance

Talk about looking a gift horse in the mouth.

Springville motorists get $20 million in the state budget for a much-needed new bridge over Cattaraugus Creek, and now an argument about who has to pay to maintain it over the next 75 years could end up derailing the whole deal.

Stakeholders need to sit down and figure out a solution that does not overburden any one party.

According to a recent story in The News, legislators allocated the money for a new bridge to carry Old Route 219 over the Cattaraugus Creek gorge. Local businesses depend on the aged bridge linking Erie and Cattaraugus counties for customers, and suffered when it closed for repairs in 2012.

So getting an expensive replacement for the deteriorating span, 652 feet long and 200 feet over Zoar Valley, must have sounded like the solution to a big headache. What could go wrong?

Here’s one answer: an argument between two counties and Albany over who will pay the millions of dollars that will be needed to maintain the bridge over its 75-year lifespan. The counties want Albany to foot the bills, but the state is balking.

State Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan is sympathetic to the counties, but also cautions that Albany is prepared to follow through on its threat to spend the $20 million on other projects around the state if this issue is not resolved.

Springville Mayor Bill Krebs is understandably more than a little concerned about the situation. He wants a new bridge and he is doing what he can to make sure that a deal is negotiated. He recognizes that the $20 million earmarked for one bridge would fund several projects in other communities.

No one is disputing that the bridge needs to be replaced. It was built in 1953 and was heavily used until the nearby Route 219 Expressway bridge was completed in 2009. While through traffic uses the new bridge, the old bridge is still a vital link to major businesses along Old Route 219, including Lowe’s Home Improvement Center, Walmart, a Microtel hotel and several fast-food restaurants, in addition to downtown Springville.

The mayor insists that his community is what he calls a “regional service area,” with all of the expected amenities, plus tourist traffic, and that status is not being considered in the debate over who pays to maintain the bridge. When considering the area’s more than 1 million visitors a year, he says, it makes little sense to divert $20 million in transportation infrastructure because county and state officials cannot decide who has to pick up the tab.

Erie and Cattaraugus counties have requested a little over $1 million annually in order to pay for maintenance, which would be nominal in the bridge’s early life but spiral as the structure ages.

This is a state bridge and should remain principally a state responsibility. State officials need to work with the counties on an acceptable arrangement. The bridge is too important to the Springville area to lose.