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November 20, 2012 - 8:29am

Inspection and inventory of county bridges planned even though federal funds dry up

posted by Howard B. Owens in infrastructure.

The county will spend $375,000 this year to do a comprehensive review of all the bridges and culverts in Genesee County, though its unclear yet how replacement and repair of tired old bridges will be funded.

The legislature has discussed a bond issue for bridge and culvert replacement, which may be necessary because the pot of money from the state and feds for highway work is getting smaller and smaller.

More fuel-efficient cars and people driving less is putting a squeeze on gas tax revenue. At the same time, according to County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens, the cost of asphalt, concrete and steel is skyrocketing.

"It sounds kind of funny that fuel-efficient cars is a bad thing for highway funding, but the way our gas tax is set up, it’s a set amount per gallon," Hens said. "It’s 18.4 cents per gallon, that goes to our highway bridge trust fund. As vehicles become more efficient they use less gas, people drive less overall because of public transit, (so) the actual revenue generated by that set amount tax drops over time."

The funding squeeze on federal highway grants has the state being more judicious about how it allocates funding, Hens said. Bridges on heavily traveled interstate highways are getting the priority, which from an engineering standpoint, Hens said, is understandable.

Some some bridges -- such as the Bethany Center Road Bridge over Route 20 -- that are in dire need of replacement are being left to decay.

The Bethany Center bridge has lost so much concrete to weather and age that rusted rebar is now visible in spots.

It was originally scheduled for replacement in 2011, but cuts in funding pushed the project to at least 2015, Hens said, and now it doesn't look like it will be replaced even then.

For the county's bridges, several -- such as South Lyon Street and Stroh Road -- have been pushed back on the replacement schedule because of fewer federal dollars and higher costs.

Still, the planned capital review project for bridges and culverts will allow engineers to inventory and inspect the county's bridges and determine their current state of possible disrepair. That work will help the county better prioritize the limited resources for bridge and culvert replacement.

The funding for the project is part of the county budget and comes from the 1-percent sales tax for capital projects.

As for the drop in fuel tax, Hens said state and federal officials have floated the idea of making the fuel tax a percentage of the overall sale so the amount paid fluctuates with the price of gas, or simply adding as much as 40 cents per gallon to the price of gas.

Hens doesn't think either idea will get much political support.

There's also the idea of using a car's black box -- all newer cars have them -- to record and report miles traveled. Drivers would then pay an additional tax when they file their tax returns with the IRS.

Hens didn't take a position on any of these ideas, he just said that's what's being discussed in Albany and Washington, D.C.

Tammy Way
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ya just can't win -- fuel efficent -- want more taxes -- where does it end -- always an excuse for more taxes

Raymond Richardson
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Tammy, would you rather have a bridge collapse, while you're crossing it?

Dave Olsen
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"..the state being more judicious about how it allocates funding,"

I know I took that out of context, but a guy can dream can't he? If only that were true across the board, the fuel tax wouldn't be a problem.

Ted Wenzka
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Sorry, I don't buy the "More fuel efficient cars and people driving less is putting a squeeze on gas tax revenue." not with the price of gas constantly rising. The NYS gas tax per gallon is not a fixed dollar amount. It is a percentage. As the price of gasoline goes up the amount of NYS gas tax collected goes up. If you dig deep enough I believe that a lot of NYS gas tax money goes into the state general operating account.

Howard B. Owens
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The amount of money allocated for the bridge fund is 18.4 cents per gallon, period. That's federal, not state, if I'm understanding Mr. Hens correctly.

Mark Potwora
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The county will spend $375,000 this year to do a comprehensive review of all the bridges and culverts in Genesee County, .....That seems like alot of money to tell them what they allready know...I thought Mr.Hens just last year reported on the state of all bridges and roads..Mr.Wenzka is right about the sales tax on gas increasing as the price per gallon goes up.....Mr.Hens would be better to use his miles per gallon analogy..If he would also show that less gallons of gas is sold in this county then say 5 years ago...The problem is that we also spend that gas tax money on subsidizing a bus systems in this county that only a select few people use....You would also think that 375,000 dollars study would be better used to fix a bridge instead of telling us what we allready know...Also how does Mr.Hens not know how many bridges are in genesee county..Why do we have to spend money to tell us the inventory ....

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