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Gillibrand bids for more bridge funding

WASHINGTON – With more than a third of New York State’s bridges in need of repair, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand on Tuesday proposed a change that would make many of those spans easier to fix with federal funds.

Gillibrand, D-N.Y., announced she is proposing an amendment to a pending highway bill that would allow states to use more federal funds to repair bridges on smaller locally owned roads.

Those funds got slashed starting in 2012, when a federal bridge construction and repair program was eliminated as part of a larger federal transportation bill. Gillibrand’s amendment would change all that by redirecting existing federal highway money to bridge repair and replacement, and by giving state and local governments more flexibility to determine which projects should be the top priorities.

“My amendment will finally give states the flexibility to spend federal transportation dollars where they’re needed most, including thousands of locally owned bridges across the state,” said Gillibrand, who sits on the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is considering a new federal highway bill. “This is among my priorities for the federal transportation spending bill we’ll pass this year.”

Of the 1,165 bridges in Erie and Niagara counties, 401 are categorized as either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient, Gillibrand said, citing Federal Highway Administration statistics.

Gillibrand’s effort comes as Congress struggles to come up with a long-term highway funding bill. It also comes a year after her colleague, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., raised the same issue, prompting local officials to stress that while they’d like more bridge funding, terms like “structurally deficient” and “functionally obsolete” exaggerate the scope of the problem.

“If any bridges weren’t safe, we’d close them,” John C. Loffredo, commissioner of public works for Erie County, said at the time. “We don’t roll the dice on public safety.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com