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Schumer, citing Tonawanda Creek Road erosion, pushes for funding dedicated to maintaining highways

One of Erie County’s most reliable laws of nature seems to ensure that erosion occurs along Tonawanda Creek Road in Clarence every time the adjacent creek floods.

Now, Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is seeking a law in Washington to establish an increased and permanent funding source for fixing damage along Tonawanda Creek Road and other highways throughout the nation that have relied on federal dollars since the 1820s.

He appeared Monday with County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and other officials on Tonawanda Creek Road to make the case for maintaining traditional funding – but now also redirecting to the highway trust fund some of the profits of U.S. companies doing business overseas.

“It’s now collapsed to the point where the county Highway Department has been forced to close it,” he said of the road as he stood along the banks of Tonawanda Creek. “It’s inconvenient and a safety hazard, and it makes it more difficult for first responders to get where they need to go.

“It’s not a safe situation.”

Indeed, residents along the road that Schumer said serves as a vital business link turned out to support the senator’s call. They support what he calls growing bipartisan support to dedicate some of the tax money generated by companies overseas for use in the highway trust fund, pointing to decreasing revenues in the fund from the federal gasoline tax in the face of lower oil prices and more efficient automobile engines.

Schumer chose Tonawanda Creek Road to press for the new funding source because of its flooding and erosion problems several times in recent years. Echoing the senator’s points, Poloncarz pointed out that fixing Tonawanda Creek Road might consume 10 percent of the county’s annual road repair budget of about $30 million.

He said Erie County will be forced to forgo work on 50 or 60 miles of county roads elsewhere for the sake of a few hundred yards along Tonawanda Creek Road.

“We can’t do it alone with the money we have,” he said.

Residents such as Fred Ketcham, who has lived in the area for 40 years, called the situation a “pain in the neck.”

“It’s a big inconvenience; that’s what it is,” he said, explaining that local residents fear that fire trucks and ambulances could be delayed in reaching their homes in an emergency.

Schumer said that all federal aid for such projects could end July 31 without action from Congress. The threat, he said, stems from some in Congress who oppose any use of federal dollars to support local highway projects.

A new approach, he explained, would create a more stable funding source instead of continue the uncertainty caused by yearly funding extensions.

“I’m urging both Democrats and Republicans to step up to the plate and fund the highway trust fund,” Schumer said.

The senator said that local governments could be forced to delay construction projects already in progress without action by the end of July. Last year at this time, he said, 45 projects worth more than $193 million in Western New York alone depended on federal funding.

He said that thousands of construction workers could lose their jobs without action in the next few weeks by Congress, not to mention the continued effects on residents, businesses and emergency personnel relying on a safe Tonawanda Creek Road.

“It’s very hard for the Town of Clarence or Erie County to come up with tens of millions of dollars for projects like this,” Schumer said.