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County to accept more than $2.5 million in federal grants to replace two bridges

By Howard B. Owens

The County Legislature is poised to accept more than $2.5 million in federal grants to help pay for two bridge replacement projects, one in Pembroke and the other in Alabama.

In Pembroke, the current steel girder bridge with a steel grate deck over the Tonawanda Creek will be removed and replaced at a total cost of 2,033,050. A federal grant will pay for $1,651,100 of the replacement with state aid covering $389,200, and the county picking up the final $9,550 of the tab.

In Alabama, the county will replace the Judge Road Bridge over Whitney Creek. The cost is $1,183,000. Federal aid is $946,400, with state aid at $177,450 and a local share of $59,150, which will come from sale tax revenue.

In both cases, the federal aid is capped at 80 percent of the cost of the project.

The Pratt Road Bridge was built in 1971, the Judge Road Bridge in 1978.

Lu Engineers, in Rochester, will be retained as consultants on the Judge Road Bridge at a cost of $162,063.91.

The resolutions for these projects were approved unanimously by the Public Service Committee on Monday and will now go to the full Legislature for approval.

Also on Monday, the committee recommended the county accept a $200,000 grant from NYS Ag & Markets for improvements to the Animal Shelter, which is now 20 years old.

The committee also authorized the transfer, pending full Legislature approval, of $40,000 oil and stone funds to the salt fund. Deputy Highway Superintendent Dave Wozniak said the transfer is necessary to help replenish the road salt supply before the fall and that the transfer would have no significant impact on planned road resurfacing projects this summer. A couple of minor projects, including a parking lot at the County Park, would be delayed for a season.

Three bridge projects for this summer moving forward

By Howard B. Owens

Resolutions to help advance three bridge projects scheduled for this summer were approved by the Public Service Committee of the County Legislature on Monday.

The project fund for replacement of the Searls Road Bridge over Spring Creek was increased by $16,500, with all but $825 of that coming from federal grant funds.

The money is necessary to acquire additional right-of-way on the roads leading up to the bridge.

The bridge will be widened from 22 feet to 30 feet -- the new federal standard -- but most of the additional right-of-way is needed during construction, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said.

Elba Farms has donated the land for the right of way on the west side of the road but the land on the east side is tied up in an estate and there is a Federal income tax lien on the property, so much of that additional $16,000 is going to a consult to help navigate the legal tangles.

The total cost of the Searls Road Bridge is $870,000, funded through federal grants.

The Pratt Road Bridge project over the Tonawanda Creek is also getting a budget bump of $13,300, all but $650 from federal grants, for right-of-way acquisition. Again, a consultant is needed to assist with the process. The total cost of the project is $2.082 million.

Three resolutions were passed in support of the project replacing the Stroh Road Bridge. Two of them accept a state grant of $100,000 in support of "multimodal" transportation (which means car, pedestrian, bike). The third resolution awards a $1.423 million construction contract to L.C. Whitford Co. Inc., of Wellsville.

The project is a complete replacement, including the stacked-stone abutments, put there in 1910.

Town highway superintendents asked to help the county secure more state grants for bridge replacements

By Howard B. Owens

Genesee County is responsible for more than 380 bridges and culverts. But for each grant-writing periord, it is only allowed by the state to apply for funding from Bridge NY for repairs to and replacement of four bridges and six culverts.

At a recent meeting in Albany, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens asked a representative from the Department of Transportation if there was a workaround for that limitation.

The consultant's suggestion: Get each of the towns in the county to apply for grants for four bridges and six culverts. There is no reason, he said, the towns can't apply, but let the county administer the grants once they are received.

"That's potentially 26 bridges instead of two," Hens said. "I don’t know that we’re going to get that many, but I’m going to try to get as many applications in as I can. Even though they are theoretically awarded to the town, the county would still administer it and hire the consultant and manage the construction. Bridge NY projects are funded 100 percent so there’s no cost to us or the towns."

In the last round of Bridge NY grants, the county applied to fund four bridge replacements and on funds for only two -- one on Searls Road and another on Pratt Road.

Grant applications are due in April.

Hens said he has met with town superintendents in the county and they support the proposal. It will take the towns' cooperation to get the applications in on time.

Bridge NY grants are reimbursements. The bridges get built and paid for and then the state sends the money to the local jurisdiction that won the grant.

The county has about $17 million in proceeds from the sale of the Genesee County Nursing Home that legislators have promised to use on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. 

Since it is reimbursement based, we would spend the money first and we would get reimbursed for all of the funding," Hens said. "That would be another great use of our nursing home proceeds, just to manage cash flow for those projects."

Once the projects are done and the county is reimbursed, Hens said, that money could then be used for infrastructure projects that must be locally funded.

The county will be spending about $2.5 million of those proceeds this summer on three projects -- replacing the Stroh Road bridge in Alexander, replacing Colby Road in Darien, and on eight culvert replacement projects around the county.

In response to questions from members of the Public Service Committee on Tuesday, Hens said the Stroh Road bridge has been submitted four times for federal funding. Funding was granted twice, but then the bridge was knocked off the list.

Even though the bridge is critical to that part of Alexander, where there are nearby farms and a quarry, it's low traffic volume makes it a low priority for state and federal aid. The next chance to apply for federal aid is 2020 but the deterioration of the bridge has reached a critical stage, so Hens does not recommend waiting on an iffy prospect of getting a grant to cover its anticipated replacement cost of $1.5 million to $1.6 million.

Bid requests went out yesterday to contractors, Hens said.

County facing loss of federal dollars to help repair roads and bridges

By Howard B. Owens

Pending federal legislation could have a dramatic impact on Genesee County's ability to repair and maintain its road and bridges, according to Highway Superintendent Tim Hens.

Both the House and Senate version strip most of the aid that has traditionally gone to local governments to help with infrastructure. 

The county is facing more than $15 million a year in expenses over the next five years to repair roads and bridges.

The bill would also realign regional highway planning committees and allow any municipality of more than 10,000 people to set up their own committees.

"There could potentially be hundreds of these planning organizations fighting for the same pot of money," Hens said. "Neither the House version nor the Senate version is very local-friendly."

Hens has drafted a letter to senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand along with Rep. Kathy Hochul asking them to consider the local impact of the legislation.

Hens wrote:

We are certainly in favor of consolidating programs and accelerating delivery measures that reduce the time and cost to bring projects to construction, thereby maximizing the available dollars to the actual construction. However, we are very concerned that funding available to the non-NHS system will fall short of what is critically needed. Although we concur that the NHS is vital to the nation’s economy, it is important that the entire transportation system be considered as one seamless system that needs to preserved and maintained in its entirety. Local governments saddled with mandates just do not have the financial ability to take up these obligations on their own.

Full text of his letter after the jump (click on the headline to read):

Dear Senator/Representative:

As you are already aware, the surface transportation bill known as SAFETEA-LU expired on September 30, 2009. Highway and transit programs have been operating under short term extensions ever since. The current extension expires on March 31, 2012.

NY State budgets have not been adequate to reverse the deterioration of local roads and bridges and the lack of action on federal highway program authorization and funding has created huge uncertainty. This uncertainty not only affects state highway programs; but the contractors, designers, subcontractors and material suppliers who work within these programs are also affected.

In the US Senate, the federal highway and transportation funding bill is MAP-21—Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century. Legislation known as the “American Energy & Infrastructure Jobs Act,” was introduced by the House on January 31, 2012. These bills seek to reform and streamline federal transportation programs, cut red tape in the project approval process, increase states’ flexibility in determining their most critical transportation needs, and encourage private sector participation in financing and rebuilding our infrastructure.

While immediate action is needed to pass a multi-year transportation reauthorization bill which will bring much needed certainty to the construction marketplace, the fear is that some proposed modifications to existing federal highway funding programs could result in fewer funds available for non-National Highway System (NHS) bridges and not provide any additional funds for non-NHS highways in New York.

We are certainly in favor of consolidating programs and accelerating delivery measures that reduce the time and cost to bring projects to construction, thereby maximizing the available dollars to the actual construction. However, we are very concerned that funding available to the non-NHS system will fall short of what is critically needed. Although we concur that the NHS is vital to the nation’s economy, it is important that the entire transportation system be considered as one seamless system that needs to preserved and maintained in its entirety.  Local governments saddled with mandates just do not have the financial ability to take up these obligations on their own.

In addition, how the local Metropolitan Planning Organization’s (MPO) boundaries are determined would change considerably in some cases; eliminating some Counties from their existing MPO. This would weaken the ability to ensure that transportation decisions benefit the overall community and threaten the economic stability, vitality and viability of the region as a whole.

The current Genesee Transportation Council boundaries are allowed per Title 23 Section 450.312(d) of the Code of Federal Regulations: “MPA boundaries may be established to coincide with the geography of regional economic development and growth forecasting areas.” The nine-county region has the same boundaries as both the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development District and Governor Cuomo’s regional economic development council. Strategic plans for both the district and the council have been completed within the last six months. We strongly urge that this provision be maintained in the next surface transportation legislation.

Increased federal funding is desperately needed to allow our highway superintendents the funding necessary to begin to address the critical needs of the state’s local transportation infrastructure. Genesee County and many other rural counties would be severely impacted with the loss of MPO representation and redirection of funds to the NHS. On behalf of Genesee County I am urging that you and your New York colleagues take steps to insure that the final multi-year federal transportation authorization bill does not short change the local highway and bridge system in this state.

Thank you for your continued support.

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.

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