State officials deserve credit for recognizing the special situation involving the construction and maintenance of a new bridge on Old Route 219 linking Springville in Erie County with Cattaraugus County.
The state wanted to wash its hands of the bridge, now that the new Route 219 bridge nearby links the two counties, and make it a local concern. However, local businesses depend on the aged bridge for customers, and they did suffer when the bridge was closed for repairs in 2012.
So the state’s offer to replace the deteriorating span, 652 feet long and 200 feet over Zoar Valley, came as a big relief. At least, for a moment. The offer triggered a dispute between the two counties and Albany over who would pay the millions of dollars needed to maintain the new bridge over its 75-year lifespan, nearly killing the deal.
The state Department of Transportation has since improved its deal, offering to pay for the first 10 years of bridge washing. In addition, the state would pay for ordinary maintenance costs that exceed state estimates, giving the counties some certainty over what their costs will be.
And as an added bonus to Cattaraugus County, the state has offered to construct cable conduits along the bridge, saving $30,000 to $50,000.
The state had already agreed to pick up the $20 million cost of constructing the replacement bridge, but because the counties insisted Albany should continue footing the maintenance bills, tensions rose.
Agreeing to those sweeteners could not have been easy for the state. There already are complaints about the state’s focus on Western New York, including the Buffalo Billion.
Sen. Patrick M. Gallivan, R-Elma, and Catharine Young, R-Olean, had secured $300,000 in maintenance funding for roughly the first 24 years. It was not going to be enough, according to officials from both counties.
Gallivan warned that Albany was prepared to follow through on its threat to spend the millions of dollars on other projects around the state.
That may have been true, and the bridge is too important to test the state’s determination. Folks around here, and especially those businesses that are affected, are relieved, indeed, that the state recognized the special circumstances and that Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz agreed to the deal.
Now it’s up to the 21-member Cattaraugus County Legislature to go along and allow the new bridge to be built. It’s not a perfect arrangement – but most good deals require both sides to back away from their original demands.
The end result will be positive for Cattaraugus County and also for Erie County and the region, with a brand-new bridge in place to serve local businesses and their customers, alike. This seems to be the best deal for everyone involved.