Skip to main content

County's transportation infrastructure aging fast, funds tight for repair and replacement

By Howard B. Owens

Genesee County is facing a problem of aging roads and bridges and not enough money to fix them, according to Tim Hens, county highway superintendent.

Hens made a presentation Monday to the legislature's Public Service Committee and said the average rating of county-owned roadways is 5.32, and for the nine bridges with spans of 20 feet or greater, the average rating is 5.02.

A rating of five on a scale of 1-9 is considered "deficient."

Funding for roadways and bridges comes from three primary sources: federal grants, state grants and local taxes.

Typically, the state has provided $1.3 million per year, but it's not clear if those grants will continue at all or at the same level.

"If we don’t get that money from the state next year, we’re looking at either differing that amount of highway maintenance next year or coming up with funding ourselves," Hens told the committee.

There's also talk of cutting federal funds by as much as 30 percent, Hens said.

As for the bridges, many of them were built in the 1950s and 1960s are reaching the end of their expected life. Some of them are eligible for federal grants for repair and replacement, but those grants are spread out over several years.

And because of the formula used by the Fed to determine eligibility, some bridges aren't eligible for funding because they haven't uniformly fallen to a 5 rating.  

The bridge over the Tonawanda Creek at River Street is an example, Hens said. While parts of the bridge rate below a 5, other parts of the bridge rate well above 5. 

Hens said he's been trying to get a grant to replace the bridge for years. At some point, the county may just need to close it.

Bridges and culverts that are less than 20 feet in length are not eligible for federal grants, so the county must pick up the entire tab.

An example is a culvert bridge on Linden Road over the Little Tonawanda Creek. It's near the end of its life cycle but it would cost the county more than $3 million to replace it.

"Our choices are not replace the bridge and force residents in the hamlet to be separated forever and find alternative routes," Hens said, "or pay for it."

Other problem bridges are on Kilian Road in Pembroke and Griswold Road in Stafford.

With the Griswold Road bridge, school buses are no longer allowed to drive over it and snow plows won't go over it. It simply can no longer support that much weight. (The rusted beam picture above comes from the Griswold Road bridge.)

As for roadways, an asphalt road is expected to have a 50 35-year life span with resurfacing every eight to 10 years and preventative maintenance (crack sealing, for example) on a regular basis.

Currently, the county is behind schedule on preventative maintenance for more than 56 miles of roadway.

In all, 26 percent of the county's roadways are considered deficient.

Besides cuts in funding and many of these roads and bridges reaching the end of their useful life all at about the same time, the cost of materials, Hens said, are skyrocketing.

He recommended that the county develop a long-term needs analysis and then consider funding options, which may include bonds.

The committee was not asked to take any action on the report.

Photos provided by Tim Hens and were used in his report.

Ken Herrmann

I wonder what the Conservative Republicans and Tea Party folks suggest. Federal or State funding? I presume they suggest that since this is a local problem, the locals should fund this work. I suppose they are content with a huge increase in local taxes to improve bridges and roads, rather than to add to the Feds and State fiscal problems. Would they like to reject Federal or State grants in this case?

May 17, 2011, 10:21am Permalink
Jeremiah Pedro

I'm relatively new to Genesee county (I have only lived here since 2006) I want to know if someone could explain to me how the county spends the tax money it collects. Do they have a line item budget that the average citizen can see. I just want to better understand how my tax dollars are being spent. How does the county generate revenue? Are taxes collected just lumped into a general fund or are they collected and separated?

May 17, 2011, 11:08am Permalink
Timothy Hens

Thank you for the article Howard. It is important for people to know that our infrastructure is falling down around us.

Spending on infrastructure at all levels (federal, state and local) needs to increase. Transportation funding is often misunderstood and is often the first budget cut made as it doesn't directly "affect" anyone the way a similar cut to a social service would.

At a time when officials all over the country are calling for a concerted effort on infrastructure, Congress is proposing a 30-40% cut in transportation funing over the next five years. The supposed "Infrastructure Stimulus" of $778 Billion actually only provided $29 Billon to infrastructure. The rest bailed out state governments, schools and funded "green" initiatives. Investing in infrastructure at the federal level has taken a backseat to funding entitlement programs and military spending.

At the state level, the budget is dominated by Medicaid spending. New York's entire transportation aid to local governements (including NYC)for the ENTIRE YEAR only equates to TWO DAYS of Medicaid spending. At the local level, unfunded mandates from the state gobble up the county budget, leaving an extremely small slice for highways and bridges. Less than 4% of the entire county budget is spent on highways and bridges.

It is not just a Genesee County problem, it is a problem in every county and in every state across the nation.

May 17, 2011, 12:24pm Permalink
George Richardson

Charvella, you are a troublemaker. Thank you. Did you get a presidential pardon yet? Or, does it hinge on Kathy Hochel's victory in NY-26? I couldn't enjoy the implosion of the Teapublican Party more if it was happening where I actually have a vote. Vote for Ian Murphy NY-26 for real, honest representation that I can embrace, the hell with what y'all want. Me me me.

May 17, 2011, 12:25pm Permalink
Chris Charvella

George, I told you on the other site that I'm a trouble 'observer.'

Mr. Hens stated the problem pretty clearly. Municipalities just don't have the money to keep up with aging infrastructure. Maybe if the federal government would institute a real public works program instead of spending billions on corporate welfare while at the same time hacking of a chunk of military spending on programs the armed forces don't want or need (I'm looking at you F-22, you were sexy but you cost too much) we'd have some cash left over for the crumbling roads and bridges we use every day.

May 17, 2011, 12:45pm Permalink
Pat McGinnis

Chris we are too busy spending Federal dollars on rebuilding other countries.

Year Spent Cumulative total
2003 $1.80 $1.80
2004 $5 $6.80
2005 $9.30 $16.10
2006 $8.80 $24.90
2007 $7 $32
2008 $5.80 $37.80
2009 $6.80 $44.60

*Measured in billions

May 17, 2011, 1:32pm Permalink
william tapp

the county has to stop spending money thay dont have. and thay have all the money thay need to fix roads EVER HERE OF SMALLER GOVERMENT , try cuting back on stuff you dont need and people you dont need.start scaling back

May 17, 2011, 3:03pm Permalink
Timothy Hens

Mr. Tapp--The County has been "cutting back" ever since I was hired in 1998. There is nothing left to cut. Nearly 90% of the budget is mandated (constitutioanlly required) by the State, with no say or argument allowed from the County. They say--we pay.

The 10% of discretionary funds left in the budget are funding items like Highways, Park and Sheriff's Road Patrols. All of which have been sliced, diced and julienned fried.

My department has lost 20 positions (cut nearly in half) in the past 10 years and we now don't have enough personnel to fill out crews when factoring in leave days. We rely heavily on "borrowing" labor and equipment from the Towns, which is cooperation and shared services at its finest, BUT this borrowing can only go so far before the Town can't get its own work done and ends up subsidizing the County with its labor and equipment.

Albany needs to hear directly from the taxpayers--"Fix the Medicaid program!" It is the 800 lb gorilla that everyone is ignoring.

May 17, 2011, 4:02pm Permalink
Janice Stenman

Mr Hems, thanks for your post. It is easy for outsiders [people who don't disperse the 10%] to make grandiose statements about cutting wasteful and unnecessary spending. However, few suggestions are ever given.

May 17, 2011, 4:41pm Permalink
Dave Olsen

It seems all they are concerned with in Albany is passing a tax-cap and rent controls for NYC. That way the legislature can have a scapegoat for when there isn't enough money for programs. If it would actually mean holding down spending, I'd be on board but I think it is just a political ploy.

When a bridge collapses and someone gets killed, then it'll be a priority. I don't have any answers, other than closing more bridges and the resultant howling will help someone find funds. The stupidest part; as you well know, Mr Hens is "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure". Had you been able to maintain the roads and bridges properly throughout the years, we wouldn't have so many problems and/or they wouldn't be as bad. I drive on the Thruway a lot, 2 roundtrips between Rochester & Syracuse every Saturday, along with a couple of times during the week. I see chunks of concrete and rusted steel on overpasses all the time. I'm just waiting for a chunk to fall on my roof someday. Good luck, keep up the good work. You're one of the rare officials who discuss important topics with us regular folk on here. thanks

May 17, 2011, 5:53pm Permalink
Tara Pariso

Politics aside, why is it that in one breath I hear "the government controls too much," but in the next it's "the fed gov't should be giving us more money." You can't have it both ways. Why is it that local citizens piss and moan about paying taxes to fund the roads & bridges they themselves use everyday? I don't agree with wasteful spending by any means, but unless you are someone who actually knows whats going on and not just reading online you really have no room to complain. I have no problem paying the salaries of the individuals who take care of the city I live in. I commend you Mr. Hens for your report and willingness to explain the ins and outs. Nothing wrong with local funds paying for local projects, I'd rather pay it here than to the state or federal government!!!

May 17, 2011, 8:57pm Permalink
John Roach

Tara, I think it's because both the State and Federal governments tax us on gasoline for road/bridge repairs. Our vehicle and drivers license fees are supposed to be used for this also. They take money that is to be used only for that purpose, then use it for the general fund. That tends to make people a bit mad.

May 17, 2011, 9:11pm Permalink
Tara Pariso

Well then why are the same people making the same decisions? When there is a vote and nothing changes, those that voted the same or chose not to vote at all are to blame.

May 17, 2011, 9:19pm Permalink

Authentically Local