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Thruway plans 'complete rebuild' of notorious stretch in Seneca territory

For those traveling the state Thruway west of Buffalo for the next five months, plan on some serious backups along one of the highway's most notorious stretches.

But by the end of July, the Thruway Authority says, motorists will finally be able to drive all 65 mph of the speed limit.

Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll visited the authority's maintenance facility at the Silver Creek exit Tuesday to formally announce the second and final phase of roadwork rehab on what has been a deteriorated four-mile stretch of roadway that travels through Seneca Nation territory.

Drivers have been slowed – either by chassis-shaking potholes, the bumps of fractured pavement or 45 mph "rough road" signs – for much of the last decade while the Thruway Authority and the Seneca Nation squabbled over when repairs could be made.

"Most importantly, when it’s done, people will be able to keep the high speed – 65 mph – across the system, that they can’t do today, that they haven’t been able to do over the last several years,” Driscoll said, after acknowledging years of frustrations by residents and motorists. "I know that will be welcome news for everyone."

The Thruway and the Seneca Nation came to an agreement in September for the Thruway Authority to repair the section that runs along the Thruway through the Cattaraugus Reservation between Exit 57A (Eden – Angola) and Exit 58 (Silver Creek).

This second and final phase of construction started last week. Driscoll called the $20 million project “a complete rebuild” that not only includes removal and replacement of approximately 5 inches of asphalt but also substantial repairs to the underlying concrete. The project covers 14 lane miles across both the eastbound and westbound roadways.

Tuesday morning's westbound drive to Silver Creek included a backup amid the stretch under repair, with driving limited to one lane for miles as flatbed tractor-trailers, dump trucks, asphalt reclaimers, pavers and scores of workers went to work on the interior lane.

Driscoll acknowledged that the yearslong delay in being able to access the roadway led to an increased expense.

"Certainly if we were able to do some of this work, it certainly would have been less expensive, but the reality is, that didn't happen," he said.

Asked about the cause of the stalemate, Driscoll said he and Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong Sr. have been working well together since the agreement was made.

"It was a lot of things," Driscoll said. "Part of that might have been a lack of communication, and I'll take some responsibility for that. President Armstrong and I came together and we found a way to get it done.

Armstrong said Seneca Nation officials were happy to see progress on the project.

"The Nation is committed to working closely with the Thruway Authority to ensure the safe and timely completion of the repairs for those who utilize the Thruway as they travel through the Cattaraugus Territory," Armstrong said.

Driscoll said the cost of the project was included in the Thruway Authority budget.

Union Concrete and Construction Corp. of West Seneca, which submitted the low-bid contract proposal, will have 50 workers a day on site, working 24 hours a day, six days a week.

The first phase of repairs were completed in fall 2019 as Thruway workers attended to the most severely deteriorated sections.

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