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Genesee County Highway Department

September 16, 2021 - 4:30pm

south_lyon_bridge.jpg

The Genesee County Legislature's Public Service Committee learned a lot about the history – and future – of the South Lyon Street bridge on Wednesday afternoon during a departmental review by Highway Superintendent Tim Hens.

Because of a recent inspection by the New York State Department of Transportation that revealed two “red flags,” the one-lane truss bridge (photo at top) was closed to traffic at the end of August. And it will stay that way for about a year, said Hens at the PSC meeting at the Old County Courthouse.

“That was not a surprise to us; we’ve seen that one coming,” Hens said. “It has been like a slow motion train wreck. We had our fingers crossed that we could make it through one more season.”

Hens said a new two-lane truss bridge is on the schedule to be replaced next spring and will take several months to rebuild. It’s unfortunate as motorists hoping to get from West Main Street to South Main Street (or vice versa) will have to use either the Oak Street roundabout or the River Street bridge.

“The (recent) inspection -- it couldn’t pass the (minimum) load limit of three tons, which is about the size of an average car,” Hens said.

The bridge, which Hens said accommodated about 2,500 cars per day on average, was in bad shape with secondary girders so “rusted out that you could poke a string through them.”

Built in 1982, it did, however, last much longer than the five to 10 years that were anticipated.

Hens said the bridge was selected for federal aid in 2011 but, two years later, that funding was withdrawn. In 2014, the DOT did not accept the application to replace it. Three years later, it was resubmitted – again unsuccessfully.

In 2020, the county learned that it would be scheduled for replacement in 2023, but now, in light of the red flags, it was been moved up to 2022.

Hens said the new bridge will be a truss style, as well, wider for two lanes and including a sidewalk on the west side. It also will be turned slightly to the west for easier access from South Main Street.

Other topics in Hens’ report included funding, roads, equipment, tree removal, airport, parks, facilities, water and grants.

He reported the highway department applied for 24 bridges and culverts under the 2021 BRIDGE-NY program, using a similar strategy as in 2018 by having the county’s towns apply for structures under Genesee’s ownership and maintenance jurisdiction. This number was less than the 34 applied for 2018 because the state DOT advised the county “not to flood the application pool.”

County crews replaced bridges on Sandpit Road in Alexander, South Main Street Road in Batavia, Wortendyke Road in Batavia, Macomber Road in Batavia and Alabama, and Browns Mill Road in Bethany repaired a bridge on Francis Road in Bethany.

Currently, the bridge on Colby Road in Darien is closed for repairs.

“Colby Road was a little different,” he said, calling it the biggest surprise he has seen in his career as far as bridge inspections are concerned.

After it was red flagged in 2020 for problems at the north end of the span – closest to Route 33 -- major repairs were made. Eight months later, another inspection revealed similar issues on the south end.

“We literally went from no flags, no load restrictions to, like holy cow, we’ve got to close the bridge tomorrow because it is bad,” Hens said. “It literally rated at negative two tons; supposedly it couldn’t support anything and we had cars drive over it for two months (before closing it per DOT).”

Repairs are being made now on the north end of the bridge, said Hens, adding that it should reopen to traffic in a few weeks.

Several other bridges were or are on the federal aid replacement schedule, including Upton Road in Batavia which reopened yesterday.

Other highlights of Hens’ report are as follows:

More Highway Funding Than Expected

“Between the governor and the assembly, we got an even bigger boost in our annual CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) and PAVE-NY funds,” Hens said. “At the end of the budget season, we were already probably at 160 percent of our normal funding. We got a ton of money going into the season.”

With that added funding – and despite a rainy July – the county is on pace to have all heavy roadwork done by Columbus Day, “which even in a normal year we’d be happy to be done that early,” he said.

Hens reported that more than 100 miles of the county’s 260 miles of roadway have been widened to 30 feet over the past several years and that will continue even if asphalt prices continue to climb (costs are up by about 15 percent over 2020).

Emerald Ash Borer is Creating Havoc

The emerald ash borer is a green buprestid or jewel beetle native to north-eastern Asia that feeds on ash species. Also known as EAB, it is causing severe problems in Genesee County, Hens said.

Thousands of dead ash trees throughout the county need to be removed as they are infringing upon roads and exposing the county to liability.

Hens said highway crews typically remove 160 or more trees from the right-of-way each year from November through April, but for 2022, he is asking for a year-round tree removal crew with two more motor equipment operators and two more seasonal flag persons.

County to Save on Snow and Ice Removal

Hens said recent mild winters will result in about a $175,000 savings to the county as the 2021 rate paid to the towns for snow plowing will be $5,825 per mile – down from $6,515 per mile in 2020. Salt prices remain stable at $51.29 per ton.

As far as fuel prices are concerned, diesel is up 13 percent from last year and unleaded is up 21 percent from 2020.

Airport Fuel Sales Rebound

Hens said that fuel sales at the Genesee County Airport are back on pace with 2019 figures, noting that the COVID-19 pandemic did not impact fuel sales as much as expected. Furthermore, small plane traffic has increased, keeping the waiting list for hangar space at more than 20.

A new eight-bay hangar is available for rent, he said, and reconstruction of the apron (funded by a Federal Aviation Agency grant) is anticipated for next year.

The county is seeking a grant from Upstate Aviation Economic Development and Revitalization to fund a $13 million project to build a large corporate hangar, equipment storage facility, apron and parking at the west end of Saile Drive.

“If we get that grant, just submitted today, there would be an equipment storage bay attached to that building that would be 100 percent funded,” he advised.

Genesee Justice Building Needs Much Work

The stonework at the Genesee Justice building at 14 West Main St. (in front of the county jail) needs significant restoration and safety work, Hens said, estimating the cost could reach $1 million.

The county has been unsuccessful in obtain an historic grant, but will reapply this fall, he said.

Hens also said the county is studying the best way to renovate Holland Land Office.

Water Project Entering Phase 3

With Phase 2 just about finished, the county is in the planning stage of Phase 3, which could cost up to $85 million.

He said the City of Batavia Water Treatment Plant is in need of significant infrastructure, possibly costing around $2.6 million, to keep it operational in the short term. Phase 3 eventually calls for the city to shut down the plant when it becomes a retail customer of the Monroe County Water Authority.

The county also is looking into getting water from Niagara County to help support the Western New York Science, Technology and Advanced Manufacturing site in the Town of Alabama.

County Considers Huge Grants

Hens said the county could be in line for a $10 million federal grant for the water project if the reconciliation bill makes it through Congress.

Additionally, he called the Economic Development Administration Build Back Better Regional Challenge “a giant opportunity, potentially up to $100 million in funding for a regional project.”

“We’ve had several phone calls with the EDA regional director … and will try to schedule another Zoom call Friday to further discuss whether it is worth putting our eggs into this basket,” he said. “It’s a lot of steps (to complete the grant), but a great opportunity for us, if it’s the right fit.”

December 11, 2020 - 1:27pm

From GOW highway officials:

Now that winter is fully upon us, it is important to be reminded of a few things in regards to snow removal and winter driving.

1.) During and after snow events, highway agencies, in the course of plowing, receive phone calls regarding damage to mailboxes, either from snowplows directly or from the force of snow being thrown by plows. If such damage is indeed caused by snow removal, it is not done intentionally. It is, however, an unfortunate consequence of snow removal.

As far as the particular agencies replacing damaged mailboxes, it must be pointed out that there is no statutory or legal authority requiring them to do so. In fact, under Section 319 of the New York State Highway Law, mailboxes are considered highway obstructions and are only “allowed” in the right-of-way as a convenience to the owner as it is understood they are required for mail delivery.

Additionally, an opinion issued by the Attorney General on Feb. 28, 1966 stated, “When the necessity of keeping the highway open conflicts with an individual’s reception of the mail, the later must stand aside.” Highway crews do their best to avoid mailboxes, but often times visibility, oncoming traffic and heavy snow work against them.

The best method to protect your mailbox during the winter months is to ensure it is properly attached to the post and to keep the mailbox assembly simple to limit impact surface area for plowed snow.

2.) Over the last few years, the practice of plowing or depositing snow from private driveways or private property onto the highway has increased significantly, especially after roadways are cleared and snow has been pushed back behind the shoulders by highway agencies. 

This is a dangerous practice and it is strictly prohibited under Section 1219 of the Vehicle and Traffic Law and Section 214 of the New York State Highway Law.

Depositing snow or ice onto the roadway or shoulder may result in a serious accident and the person or persons responsible may be liable to a fine of $1000.00 per day, per occurrence for each day the occurrence remains uncorrected. Police agencies and highway agencies will usually issue written warnings prior to issuing tickets.

3.) “Slick Roads Cause Accident” is often a frequent newspaper headline during in the winter months. The truth is that slick roads may contribute to an accident but they are not the sole cause of accidents. Accidents are generally caused by drivers who fail to drive appropriately for winter conditions.

Sections 1180(a) and 1180(e) of the Vehicle and Traffic Law state, “No person shall drive a vehicle at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions and having regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” Accepted safe winter driving practices include, but are not limited to, slower driving, increased braking distance, and increased vehicle separation.

Following these guidelines will significantly reduce your chances of being involved in an accident on slick roads.

4.) Highway agencies spend a considerable amount of tax money to ensure the roads are cleared in an efficient manner after snow and ice events.  Snow removal efforts do not guarantee bare or dry roads. The cost to provide these conditions would far outstrip what most taxpayers would be willing to pay.

Even when bare roads can be obtained, weather conditions such as wind and rapidly dropping temperatures can alter highway conditions dramatically from one area to the next. The best course of action for anyone traveling during the winter months is to adjust your driving to meet the conditions present.

5.) Highway agencies have contingency plans in place to handle employee illness and quarantine due to COVID-19, however, if the virus becomes more widespread than current conditions, there is a significant likelihood that plowing capability will be impacted.

This may result in fewer plows on the road and as a result longer routes and longer cycle times. Please be patient. Roads will be plowed, but levels of service may vary from previous years. 

Please drive safe, be patient and have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Timothy J. Hens, PE, Genesee County Superintendent of Highways, Genesee County -- Town Highway Superintendents Association

Todd M. Gadd, PE, Wyoming County Superintendent of Highways, Wyoming County -- Town Highway Superintendents Association

John M. Papponetti, PE, Orleans County Commissioner of Public Works, Orleans County -- Town Highway Superintendents Association

September 15, 2020 - 11:50am

The federal government is letting counties such as Genesee down by failing to “bridge” a gap in funding necessary to prevent a collapse of its infrastructure, Highway Superintendent Tim Hens said on Monday.

Speaking at the Genesee County Legislature’s Public Service Committee meeting at the Old County Courthouse, Hens said most of the county’s large bridges are in desperate need of repair – a situation that seems to have fallen upon deaf ears in Washington.

“We have roughly 100 federal aid bridges and they all have design lives on them of 50 to 75 years,” Hens said, noting that the majority of these spans were built in the 1940s, ‘50s and early ‘60s. “All at the same time, we’re getting slammed with 40 to 50 bridges that need to be replaced and we’re only getting funded for one or two every other year. There’s no way we’re going to keep up.”

Hens said federal money used to come in to do two bridges a year, and then it decreased to one per year. It’s even less frequent now.

“It’s extremely frustrating … we have pushed very, very hard (for funding) all the way up to the president,” he said, adding that he’s uncertain of the status of a bill currently in the Senate.

Genesee County, as is the case with other municipalities across the state, is in the midst of a serious financial crunch due to the COVID-19 pandemic that shut things down in mid-March. The economy has started to recover, but sales tax revenue for the year is down and New York State has cut aid by 20 percent across the board.

Delays in federal funding for roads and bridges forced the county to have to pay “the full shot” (instead of the usual 5 percent) to replace a bridge on Stroh Road in Alexander, a cost of $1.8 million that was taken from the $7.5 million allocated for infrastructure after the sale of the county nursing home.

Hens said the county’s bridges are “getting worse,” advising that 48 of the 92 larger bridges (over 20 feet) are listed as deficient per state standards.

“Statewide, we are probably on the lower end of bridge conditions … and we’re definitely near the bottom of the list of counties in terms of the condition of our bridges,” he said.

Genesee County is responsible for all bridges in the county, an “an extra burden on us that most counties don’t have,” Hens said.

As he presented his departmental review, Hens said the large bridges showed nine “red flags” in 2020 – up from just two in 2019 – with two of those problems permanently corrected with the rehabilitation of bridges on Colby Road in Darien and McLernon Road in Bethany.

The county has 278 bridges of less than 20 feet, and 19 of the worst 30 have been replaced since 2016, including one this year.

Overall, keeping the roads up to snuff and performing preventative maintenance have become more challenging due to budget restraints and lack of funding, Hens said.

Along those lines, he said it is likely (pending negotiations with the employees’ union) that the county will switch to one-person snowplowing – instead of the usual two in the truck – to save money.

“The bottom line is that it seems like we keep kicking the can down the road relative to preventative maintenance and as anybody knows if you put off maintenance on your home, you’ll have bigger problems to deal with – and that’s where we’re headed with highways and bridges,” Hens said. “The continued budget cuts – we’re really out of options at this point. It’s kind of like which finger do you want to cut off your hand?”

He said that further cuts for highway will lead to dropping critical services such as driveway installations and ditching.

“There’s just nothing left to get rid of. Even if I was thinking about trying to privatize some of my department, you still have the maintenance and capital expense – there’s nothing left to cut, bottom line,” he said.

Hens’ 10-year capital plan shows expenditures for infrastructure and related expenses totaling $125 million.

Legislator Marianne Clattenburg brought up the nursing home money and asked what the county’s share was when federal aid for infrastructure came into play.

Hens said that the county’s share is normally 5 percent, prompting Clattenburg to respond that 5 percent of $125 million was about $6 million – less than the $7.5 million in nursing home money.

“Where’s the crisis here?” she asked. To which Hens replied, “The crisis is the fact that we don’t always get federal aid. I usually program two federal aid bridges a year and we don’t always get that.”

Clattenburg then blamed federal lawmakers for putting the county in such a bind.

“We need to stop fighting each other and start thinking about real problems that people are having in Congress. We’re ready to go – we’ve been frugal. We put the money away so we can do this work, and now everything is stalled,” she said.

Legislator Andrew Young agreed, wondering, “Why they’re not talking about an infrastructure bill at the federal level? I don’t get it.”

Despite the financial woes, Hens said he is submitting a county road fund budget of $5,799,749 for 2021, within about $18,000 of the 2020 budget. The county’s general fund contributes more than $5.3 million of that amount.

He said the budget could increase by up to $50,000 if the Town of Bethany enters into a plowing and mowing agreement with the county for next year.

July 23, 2019 - 5:09pm
posted by Billie Owens in Genesee County Highway Department, news.

Important Notice

Effective today, the bridge on Searls Road between North Byron Road and Tower Hill Road in Byron is open, the GC Highway Department announced this afternoon.

It was closed for replacement.

October 26, 2018 - 1:46pm
From the Genesee County Highway Department:
 
The Genesee County Highway Department will be closing Searls Road in Byron, from North Byron Road to Tower Hill Road, effective Wednesday, Oct. 31, through May 1 for a bridge replacement. No thru traffic will be allowed. Detour signs will be posted.
June 11, 2018 - 5:44pm

Washington, D.C. – Genesee County, New York Highway Superintendent Timothy Hens was installed as President-elect of the National Association of County Engineers (NACE) at their recent annual meeting and technical conference. Hens’ term will run through April of 2019.

NACE is a nonprofit, nonpartisan professional association in its 62nd year, representing over 2,400 county road officials and related professionals in the United States and Canada. It's motto is "The Voice of County Road Officials."

In the United States, local roads account for about 75 percent of highways and roads, or 2.93 million miles. Counties manage 1.74 million miles of those roads. Counties also own 231,000 bridges and operate one-third of the nation’s transit systems.

“I am honored and humbled by this opportunity to serve the nation’s county road professionals,” Hens said. “County infrastructure is the basis for a successful American economy.

"From getting goods to market to ensuring a safe and efficient ride from work for our residents, county-owned transportation infrastructure will lead the way towards economic prosperity for decades to come.”

Hens has been the superintendent of Highways for Genesee County since 1998. In this capacity he functions as the County Engineer and oversees a number of county departments including, highways, airport, water, environmental health, facility maintenance, and parks, recreation and forestry.

Hens and his wife, Eve, have three college-aged children and reside in Le Roy.

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