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Editorial: Inaction on repairs to a deadly stretch of road continues to put public at risk

After a horrific death and $3.2 million in lawsuit settlements, you’d think the state of New York would hustle a bit to fix a desperately dangerous stretch of roadway. But you’d be wrong.

A short stretch of Route 63 that runs through the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge is today what it was on Dec. 26, 2013. That’s when David M. Russo died after his car slid on a patch of ice, flipped over and landed upside-down in the swamp. The father of two, just 43, drowned inside his car.

It could have been worse. A passenger in Russo’s car survived, as did John Shingleton of Medina, who waded into the icy swamp trying to save the occupants.

The problem with the road is nothing more than a slight dip, but when water from the Alabama Swamp rises onto the pavement, driving becomes hazardous, especially in icy conditions. At least eight similar accidents have occurred on or near that stretch of road, caused when the swamp’s rising waters create wet road conditions.

One volunteer firefighter, Jeff Lyons, thinks more than 100 accidents have occurred there over the past 32 years.

“I think this is one of the most deadly stretches of road in Orleans, Genesee and Niagara counties,” he said.

Yet, more than three years after a man died and taxpayers compensated his survivors to the tune of $3.2 million, it hasn’t managed to make improvements to the road. More people could die.
Part of the delay may be because the state road runs through a federal wildlife refuge. It’s easy to see, given the generally slow pace of governments, how that wrinkle could cause additional problems, but that doesn’t mean residents and motorists have to accept it as a valid excuse for more than three years of inaction since Russo perished and many more than that since the road’s hazards were made clear.

If Washington and Albany need to get together on this, then the area’s state and federal legislators and Cuomo need to bring their attention and considerable influence to bear. In addition to New York’s two U.S. senators, those legislators include Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence and State Sen. Robert G. Ortt, R-North Tonawanda. In the Assembly, Route 63 near the Alabama Swamp includes the districts of Assemblymen Michael J. Norris, R-Clarence and Stephen Hawley, R-Albion. Their help is needed.

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