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.