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Seneca Nation, Thruway Authority reach agreement on road repairs

SALAMANCA – Attention State Thruway drivers: Your days of slowed-down, bump-filled, cringe-worthy drive between Exits 57A and 58 are coming to an end.

The Seneca Nation announced Wednesday that it reached an agreement with the New York State Thruway Authority regarding long-needed repairs on the portion of the Thruway that crosses the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus Territory.

Rickey Armstrong Sr., Seneca Nation president, said the agreement was a result of a dialogue with the state that opened recently.

"All I can say is, they knocked on our door, and we answered it," Armstrong said.

The two sides have blamed each other for a stalemate that has loomed for much of 2019. Armstrong did not point to any specific recent development that caused the two entities to come together.

"After multiple requests, the Seneca Nation was finally able to engage the New York State Thruway Authority in direct communication over the last several days regarding this deplorable condition of this Thruway crossing the Seneca Nation Cattaraugus Territory," Armstrong said. "Our direct communication resulted in a cooperative agreement so that repair work could finally begin."

Armstrong said the Thruway Authority submitted a plan recently, and a final agreement was reached Tuesday.

“As promised, we have crews at the ready who will begin work tomorrow to focus on stabilizing and sustaining the roadway for all motorists as we head into the winter months,” Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll said in a statement.

The authority agreed to begin work Thursday on the approximately 3-mile stretch of the Thruway (I-90 eastbound and westbound) that runs through the Cattaraugus Territory. The roadway is marked by potholes, fractured pavement and "rough road" signs, with speed limits marked down from the usual 65 mph to 55 mph and even 45 mph to account for the especially bad areas.

Work on the stretch between exit 57A (Eden – Angola) and exit 58 (Silver Creek) will be completed in phases to properly rebuild the roadway, the authority said in a release.

Repairs as part of this pavement rehabilitation project will begin Thursday. Crews will perform partial-depth repairs to the most severely deteriorated sections of the roadway and to the shoulders to help extend its durability in preparation for the winter months ahead, according to the authority's release. New line striping also will be applied to enhance visibility.

Following this first round of essential repair work, a full reconstruction project will commence, the authority said.

The project is expected to be completed within eight to 10 weeks, barring any unforeseen conditions or circumstances, and weather permitting. If the weather makes full completion not possible before winter, it will be resumed and completed as soon as the weather allows in the spring of 2020, the authority said.

Lane closures and minimal delays are anticipated through the duration of the project. Motorists can find scheduled lane closures on the Thruway’s website and by using its free mobile app.

"We're happy to get this work completed," Armstrong said, adding that he doesn't feel that it is necessary to "rehash" older issues.

“After a long five years, we are very pleased that the Nation finally agrees that this work must be completed as soon as possible," Driscoll said in the authority's release. "I’d like to thank Gov. Cuomo for ensuring safety for all of New York’s drivers by bringing this issue to the forefront and exposing unnecessary delays to repair.”

Armstrong said there were timelines that needed to be worked out, and there has been an agreement reached regarding hiring Seneca workers for the road repairs.

"We'd like to see similar progress" on other roads in the Seneca Nation, Armstrong said, "the most glaring among them is the worsening conditions of the state roadways right here in the Allegany Territory in Salamanca."

Armstrong said he "hopes the state shows the same urgency of prioritizing and addressing the poor condition of other state roadways in our territory that impact the daily lives of our people. The safety of these roads and the people who travel across them deserve the state’s attention, even if the roads don’t generate toll money for the state’s coffers."

Disagreements over the Thruway repairs have gone on for several years.

In April 2018, the Senecas filed a federal lawsuit accusing the state of failing to get required permission from the federal government when it built 2.7 miles of Thruway through Seneca Nation land in the 1950s. The state has denied any wrongdoing and asked a judge to dismiss the case. The two sides are scheduled to make oral arguments in court Oct. 17.

Rough rides on Thruway persist as state, Senecas tussle

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