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Editorial: D.C. needs to support Route 5 safety project

The plan to fix the seawall along Route 5 in Athol Springs was announced just two months ago, but already officials are wondering if Washington will come through with its share of the funding. Sen. Charles Schumer is worried that other priorities will hinder construction of the revetment designed to strengthen the road.

The work needs to be a priority. Anyone who has seen pictures of Lake Erie hurling its waves onto the roadway understands the problem. It’s a dangerous situation, especially during winter storms, as the crashing waters threaten traffic, erode the existing wall and weaken the road. At that time of year, the waves can quickly turn to ice on the road and even on cars passing by.

“It’s a very dangerous situation,” Town of Hamburg Police Chief Gregory Wickett told The Buffalo News. “Three or four times just this past year, we had to close this road.” That’s a call to action and warning of the potential price of failure to move ahead.

If the decision had to be made over, that section of Route 5 might have been shifted a little to the east, where the waves would not have so great an impact. But that’s an impossibility today. The solution is the redesigned barrier that will help prevent the water from spilling over the roadway.

Indeed, Schumer last week called the work “critical” – an urgent matter of safety for the 40,000-plus motorists who use the thoroughfare daily. To demonstrate the crucial nature of the project, he held up a chunk of concrete that had fallen off the 14-foot-high wall, which was built almost a century ago.

He said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers needs to prioritize the project. It’s the right approach.

“When you have 40,000 people using this highway every day, it should have a lot higher priority than other Army Corps projects,” Schumer said. “I am going to push the Army Corps of Engineers to put this at the top of its list and get the revetment done.”

Congress has agreed to provide the Corps of Engineers with $2 million to cover 65 percent of the expected cost of the project. New York State is to cover the rest, though we see no reason that local governments shouldn’t also contribute to work that will significantly improve their community. It’s not a lot of money in the context of the federal budget, and what’s more, it’s necessary spending as a matter of public safety.

If the money actually comes through soon, work on the project could begin this fall. That needs to be the goal, and it requires both the state’s senators and Western New York’s congressional delegation to ensure that the work isn’t put on Washington’s back burner.

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