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Editorial: The roads! Fix them! Please!

Driving on the roads around here can be a real pain in the … well, this is a family newspaper. But there is nothing family-friendly about the pockmarked, potholed conditions of some of our most heavily traveled roads.

The mess knows no bounds. Potholes can be found throughout the region, from Erie to Niagara. It’s Third World: From Buffalo’s Franklin Street to Hamburg’s Lakeview Road and beyond, road cracks and crevices can be found just about everywhere.

This is not a new gripe. Motorists have been complaining for years and generally around this time: following the winter freeze-thaw-freeze. And it’s brutal, hitting drivers where they sit: in the wallet. Something has to change and the federal government has to play a part.

TRIP, a Washington group funded by insurers, unions and various highway-related industry groups, estimates that the annual additional cost to the average Buffalo-area motorist driving on rough roads at $382 annually.

Federal Highway Administration data for 2016 indicates that 40 percent of arterial roadways in the Buffalo area have deficient pavements, with 15 percent rated in poor condition and 25 percent rated as mediocre.

New York State’s freeze-thaw cycle is brutal – No. 2 in the country, according to Erie County Public Works Commissioner William Geary – and this past winter was especially rough. The expansion-contraction has caused breakaways of what seems epic proportion.

Localities have been patching and paving. Buffalo has full-time crews filling potholes. Clarence and West Seneca had crews out all winter. Demand for attention is so high that the city, county and several municipalities have complaint lines that residents can call to report bad roads.

Niagara County started using its Crafco Patcher, a recently acquired, trailer-mounted machine which, according to highway workers, proved to be more effective than anticipated.

Erie County is unique, with 1,200 center line miles of roads and 400-plus bridges. The sheer size of infrastructure means more roads with potholes. Local roads with lower traffic counts get more potholes and the higher trafficked roads get more attention. Except when residents get creative and post signs like “Welcome to Potholeville,” as one did on Hamburg’s Lakeview Road, where some preliminary repairs have been made.

The City of Buffalo has full-time, year-round crews to fill potholes, but city roads can be vicious. Whatever it's doing, though, it's not keeping up. It can seem like whack-a-mole in the midst of the freeze-thaw cycle and the early spring and rainy season.

There are 1,600 lane miles in the city to cover with a lot of utility parts in the roadways, causing movement. Several roads are partially located in towns, in which case the city works with local municipalities, said Steven Stepniak, Buffalo’s commissioner of public works. And, yes, Main Street by the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus will get fixed this year.

Localities may be able to do better, but Washington has a role to play. That is why the FAIR Committee (Fair Apportionment of Infrastructure Revenue) has been pushing for more federal support for the Highway Trust Fund. Congress has been unable – or unwilling – to increase funding for the past couple of decades. It is vital for the federal government to get its arms around a national program for infrastructure funding and for local congressional representatives, especially those from the snow belt, to push for it.

As FAIR chairwoman Carley Hill said, taxpayers own the roads and bridges. They either function to boost economic development as a region, or to hinder it.

Potholed-filled roadways do not make for a good lasting impression on companies considering locating here. And they don’t make a good impression on those of us who want to remain. We need to find a way to do better.

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