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County highway department announces routine road work plans

By Howard B. Owens

From Tim Hens, county highway superintendent:

Routine oil and stone work to begin tomorrow on Bank Street Road north of Five Corners (Townline Road) and Transit Road (Bank Street to Route 262) in the towns of Batavia, Elba and Byron.

Additional roads getting oil and stone within the next two weeks include:

  • Bennett and Simonds roads, Town of Darien
  • South Lake Road  (Cochocton to Route 5), Town of Pembroke
  • Akron Road, Town of Pembroke
  • Knowlesville and Ham Road, Town of Alabama
  • Barrville Road, Town of Elba
  • North Byron Road (Barrville Road to Route 98), Town of Elba
  • Creek Road (City of Batavia to Putnam Road), Town of Batavia
  • Attica and Darien-Alexander Townline roads, Town of Alexander
  • Covell and Hartwell roads, Town of Pavilion

Motorists are urged to travel at 35 mph or lower while oil cures and until loose stone can be swept from the roadway.

County highway plows through stockpiles of salt during a very wintery winter

By Howard B. Owens

For two consecutive winters, Genesee County used very little salt on roadways to help keep motorists safe, but what was saved disappeared quickly this winter, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens told the Public Service Committee on Monday.

Because of the mild winters, Hens started the year with salt in salt barns that was two years old and an unspent salt budget from last year. By Jan. 1, it was all gone and spent.

"We burned through both the pile and the money in November and December," Hens said. "So coming into January 1, I was already anxious to buy more. We had our new budget and filled the barns up with salt again. We burned through all the money we had budgeted for salt this year in about a month and a half."

So far, Hens said, the highway department is about $25,000 in the red for road salt in 2014.

"I've still got, theoretically, a few more storms this spring, storms or ice or whatever we end up getting, and I've got to figure on next November, December, too, and anything outside of it," Hens said.

To ensure an adequate salt supply, Hens is shifting money from the summer and fall road maintenance budget.

That probably means there are some potholes that won't get fixed.

"As everybody knows from driving around, pothole season is just starting," Hens said. "As bad as the winter's been, the temperature fluctuations, the extreme temperature fluctuations, where it's 20 below to 50 in two days, that freeze, thaw cycle just tears the pavement apart.

"We've had three or four of those huge swings this winter," Hens added, "and the pavement's starting to show it. As that frost comes out the ground, it's only going to get worse."

Hens also shared the observation that during our heavy snowstorm a week ago, there were few drivers on the road.

That made road maintenance a lot easier.

People stayed home, Hens figures, because the memory of January's blizzard was still on their minds.

"That was a bad storm," Hens said. "That was probably the worst that I'd seen since the Blizzard of '77. That storm caught a lot of people off guard just because we hadn't had a bad storm like that in a long, long time. That was very fresh in people's minds, and when they said the word blizzard this time -- the National Weather Service was pretty good about putting a blizzard warning out -- everybody was like, 'OK, last time we had a blizzard, it was nasty. I'm staying home.' "

Preventative maintenance on county roads slipping as funding remains tight

By Howard B. Owens

When it comes to roads, there isn't much good news for the county, according to Tim Hens, highway superintendent.

There simply isn't money available for basic maintenance and with the cuts expected to the county budget, the county may not have the manpower this winter to operate snow plows.

The past several years, the towns have assisted the county as part of a shared services agreement, but the patience of town supervisors is wearing a little thin, Hens told the Public Services Committee on Monday.

"At the last meeting I got some blow back that enough is enough," Hens said.

County Manager Jay Gsell is asking all the departments in the county to cut spending by 5 percent.

For the highway department a five percent cut -- after years of trimming -- means layoffs, Hens said. That's all there is left to cut.

"Technically speaking, our staffing will be three people short of what we need to respond to a snow or ice event," Hens said.

Even if the county raises the property tax levy 2 percent, as allowed under a new state law, the increase won't even cover the anticipated rise in the county's retirement and medical expenses for 2012.

Without money to resurface roads as needed, the county has been sealing and patching cracks, Hens said, but many of the roads are well beyond these patchwork repairs.

"It's gotten to the point where even the public knows it's not the right treatment for the road," Hens said. "We get phone calls about it, but it's not like we don't know what we're doing. We have no option. There's no money and we're trying to stretch it as far as we can."

Among the cuts in the upcoming budget will be reduction painting pavement markings on county roads.

“That’s a service that people out on rural roads really depend on on a stormy night," Hens said. "That’s getting cut out."

This summer a bridge on Arnold Road in Elba had to be closed because one of the supports had completely rusted away. Funds from other bridge repairs had to be diverted to pay for the bridge to be replaced.

Several county-owned bridges now have weight limits on them that prevent fully loaded school buses from driving on them.

"Our snowplows really shouldn't be on them," Hens said.

It wasn't all bad news for the county that Hens delivered to the legislators, though.

Revenue is up about $100,000 at the county airport because of record fuel sales, and all the new hangars are leased and there's a waiting list for hangar space.

Also, a new online reservation system for county parks will make it easier for residents to book pavilions for parties and picnics.

The automated system will end the need for people to drive to the highway department facility on Cedar Street to make reservations and save about two hours per day of staff time to deal with reservations.

Candidates answer question on Genesee County's infrastructure needs

By Howard B. Owens

In light of our story Tuesday about the sad state of our roads and bridges, at the candidates' forum yesterday, I wanted to ask the candidates what they would do about the problem.

Jane Corwin said we have a big problem with infrastructure and we need a comprehensive, long-term plan for funding from the federal government. She said infrastructure should be one of the highest priorities of the federal government.

But, she said, the government is spending too much money, driving up debt.

"We're spending too much money that is going toward interest payments not enough toward infrastucture," Corwin said.

Hochul's response contrasted the government's infrastructure spending with current foreign policy.

"I’m going to go out on a limb here," Hochul said. "We are probably spending more on roads in Pakistan and places like that where they’re not exactly our friends than we are right here in Genesee County. We’ve got to get our priorities straight. I’m starting to reexamine a lot of our commitment internationally."

Jack Davis and Ian Murphy did not attend the forum.

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.

Road Conditions

By William Buckley

All road segments mentioned below plowed and passable now, though E/W Saile is still somewhat slick as of about 7:15. Some lanes are not fully cleared yet, but there is a clear path of travel in both directions.

Road Conditions as of 6:00 AM:
Main St. From Tops (5/63 Split) to Aldi (5/33 Split): Passable, was able to maintain speed limit.

63 from Main to Oakfield: "Snowball's Chance," slick, could not safely exceed 35 in 55 zone, TBFD called out to 8100 block (My-T Acres area) for vehicle off the road into the South/West tree line.

Hawley (GCC): "Snowball's Chance," in some spots even 25 did not seem to be a safe speed, unplowed as of 4:50. Eastbound appears to have been cleared now.

33 from Main to Batavia Stafford Townline/Seven Springs: Passable, cautiously.

E & W Saile Dr. (Airport) : Again, "Snowball's Chance," highly variable condition, slick, unplowed as of 5:00.

98 from W Saile to Thruway Entrance: Could not safely exceed 40.

Edit Notes:
8:20 AM - Added updated conditions, fixed Hawley direction described earlier, I lost my sense of direction.

City could use federal funds to improve Cedar and Summit streets

By Howard B. Owens

The City of Batavia could reconstruct both Cedar Street and Summit Street at no direct cost to local taxpayers, the City Council was told tonight.

By combining annual federal infrastructure funds the city already gets with an 80-percent funding grant, the city could complete $5.7 million projects by 2012 and not a dime would come from city coffers.

The 80-percent grant is Federal money that is administered by the state.

The city must apply for the grant.

Reconstruction would rebuild the streets rather than just repave them, which was recently done to Oak Street.

Summit will cost an estimated $2.2 million and Cedar, $3.5 million.

The city plans to move ahead with design work that will put it in a position to receive the grants, using funding already available from the feds.

City police urge caution on slick roads

By Philip Anselmo

Scenes similar to this clean up yesterday at the site of a head-on collision on Clinton Street Road in the city have been common over the past few days. Below zero temperatures have kept the road salt from doing its work and frequent snowfalls have kept the plows more than busy.

In response, the city of Batavia police have issued a statement urging motorists to drive cautiously and maybe drive a little more slowly than they normally would.

In the past 24 hours the Batavia Police Department has investigated about 15 motor vehicle accidents. Only a few resulted in minor injuries. With the extreme cold weather conditions and the snow we have received, the city streets remain slippery and icy especially at intersections. Even after being treated, the intersections and streets become icy quickly with the near zero temperatures we are experiencing.
We are asking all drivers in the city to use extreme caution and to slow down, especially when approaching intersections.

Travel advisory lifted for Genesee County

By Philip Anselmo

The Genesee County Sheriff's Office lifted the travel advisory for the county at 2 o'clock this afternoon. "There is still blowig and drifting snow, however all roads are passable and visibility has improved," according to a released statement. "Roads are snow packed and slippery and extreme caution is advised when driving."

If you have gone out today, how have you found the roads?

Thruway near Pembroke is a hot spot for speeding tickets... but probably not today

By Philip Anselmo

A special section in this Sunday's Democrat & Chronicle will run down the details on speeding tickets: what to do when you get pulled over and what to do once you've got the ticket. Folks in Genesee County may want to pay close attention. Pembroke, it turns out, ranks third in number of tickets issued for the Thruway.

Pembroke, Genesee County, is the No. 3 spot on Interstate 90 for speeding tickets, according to a Democrat and Chronicle analysis of state Department of Motor Vehicle records. Last year, State Police issued almost 5,000 tickets resulting in convictions along the stretch of the Thruway in Genesee County; 1,738 were issued in Pembroke. Pembroke Town Court allows most speeders to plead to a lesser violation by mail.

Somehow, I don't think speeding will be a problem there today. Here are the current conditions at the Pembroke interchange:

News roundup: No change in how city pays for trash collection... for now

By Philip Anselmo

Batavia residents will continue to pay for trash collection through their property taxes... at least, for now, according to WBTA's Dan Fischer. City Council took up the issue last night, debating whether it might not make more sense to switch to a non-exempt fee system. Fischer cites an example brought up by Councilman Sam Barone last night who said that the Genesee ARC costs the city $900,000 per year in trash collection, yet the group is exempt because of its non-profit status. Council will take up the issue again in April.

Eight property owners from Oak Street told the City Council last night that they oppose the state's proposal to reduce that street from four to three lanes, one heading north, one south, and one that would be used for turning only. A public informational meeting will be held on the proposal on December 18.

Batavia Daily News for Monday: Potential changes in store for Batavia's Oak Street

By Philip Anselmo

Last month, the state Department of Transportation came to the Batavia City Council with a proposal to transform Oak Street from four lanes to three and use the center lane for turns only, according to the Daily News. At least one Oak Street resident, Carol Grasso, plans to oppose that proposal because it would mean that vehicles would no longer be able to park on the street. (Parking is currently allowed, save between the hours of 7:00 to 9:00am and 4:00 to 6:00pm.) Grasso will voice her disapproval of the project at this evening's Council meeting.

In other news, this year's Toys for Tots campaign has kicked off for the season. Wal-Mart in Batavia will host a collection this Saturday and Sunday. Other barrels will be out for collection at the Genesee County Career Center, the Batavia City Fire Department, HSBC Bank and Hospital Heart Rehab Center. Call Ed Weiss at (585) 343-8279 if you would like to donate or to find out how your business can host a collection barrel.

Crossroads House will remain closed temporarily for construction and to allow the home to potentially locate a new full-time director and better organize its internal management. Crossroads, a "comfort home for the terminally ill," is funded almost exclusively by public donations. The group hopes to be back open soon.

We encourage you to pick up a copy of the Daily News at your local newsstand. Or, better yet, subscribe at

News roundup: A slippery commute

By Philip Anselmo

"Numerous" vehicles ran off the road early this morning on a very slippery Route 20 that got so hazardous it had to be closed down for about a ten mile stretch between Alexander and Pavilion, according to WBTA's Dan Fischer. Many of the vehicles that slid off the highway were still being pulled back up onto the road not even an hour ago. Salt trucks were finally starting to make some progress in the seven o'clock hour. About two to three inches of slippery snow fell across the area overnight.

A deer hunter was shot and killed by a member of his own party in Cattaraugus County. Derrick Lockwood, 23, of the town of Humphrey died Sunday morning following the incident, authorities there said. A police investigation into the death is ongoing.

Electronic billboards: Coming soon to a highway near you...

By Philip Anselmo

Commuters heading west from Batavia may soon have to contend with yet another highway distraction. An article in the Buffalo News from last week informs us that electronic, television-style billboards will soon be gracing roadsides in Buffalo, Niagara Falls, Hamburg and Tonawanda. They will replace the antiquated poster-style billboards in those areas with electronic ones that "beam a new picture every eight seconds." But there's more to these flashy billboards than just invasive marketing opportunities.

The new technology has drawn concern in some communities, while winning applause in others for beaming emergency information to drivers.

Digital signs can quickly replace ads with messages about traffic problems ahead. They can also relay AMBER Alerts about missing children, (Lamar general manager Rich) Dvorak said.

In Minneapolis, a digital billboard alerted drivers about a bridge collapse in 2007 and helped reroute traffic.

“We can react within minutes to get that [emergency] message up,” Dvorak said.

But concerns about distracted driving and neighborhood livability have also surfaced as the electronic signs proliferate, with 1,100 now in use nationwide.

What do you think? Will electronic billboards be worth the distraction?

News roundup: Some slick roads

By Philip Anselmo

WBTA's Dan Fischer has a caution for morning commuters: Be careful on highway overpasses. Several minor accidents were reported earlier this morning due to ice slicks on overpasses in Genesee County that have not yet been salted. Nasty spots include the Route 19 Thruway bridge in Le Roy and the Route 63 Thruway bridge in the town of Batavia. A few power outages were also reported this morning as a result of the icy conditions. Parts of Bethany and Alexander were off the grid for a little while, but power has since been restored.

In other news, the Batavia City Council will meet tonight at 7:00pm at City Hall.

Ellicott Street gets a facelift

By Philip Anselmo

Work begun this morning on the Ellicott Street sidewalk renovation project in downtown Batavia. Proof of this was the brief blackout this morning when construction crews struck an unexpected power line.

The Batavian sat with Batavia Business Improvement Director Don Burkel this morning to find out some details about the project—we also got a photo of the plans: a section of the project at the intersection of Liberty and Ellicott streets (see below).

"We want to create a pedestrian area that is safe and attractive so that shoppers will want to come downtown to Ellicott Street," he said.

Making things attractive means breaking up the existing sidewalk, putting in new concrete pavers, adding some trees here and there, putting in some curbing and bumpouts, even a gazebo. Work stretches from the Evans and Court streets interesection east down Ellicott to the interesection with Swan Street.

Burkel said the project should be complete by the end of November and that there should be no interference with traffic in the meantime. Anyone interested in the project or any other downtown initiatives for that matter should visit the BID's Web site.

Funds for the project came mostly from a street enhancement grant from the Federal Highway Administration, said Burkel. They pitched in $500,000. The BID gave $150,000, and another $100,000 was supplied by the city.

Road work on Route 33

By Philip Anselmo

Don't know about any of you folks, but my commute takes me straight down Route 33 to Batavia from Route 490 and back every day, a long haul but a beautiful drive with so much more character than swinging up and around via the lifeless thruway. Starting next week, and likely through to November, that could mean the occasional delay or at least a slow down in traffic through a stretch of that road.

The state Department of Transportation released this info about the upgrade to the Black Creek Bridge in Stafford (between Route 237 and Caswell Road on Route 33):

Steel and concrete elements of the 75-year old structure have been showing signs of age and deterioration. Plans call for the removal of the existing concrete parapets on the bridge and for the installation of railing. Repairs will be made to deteriorated sections of concrete above and below the bridge and improving drainage to further slow down deterioration of substructure elements.

Construction work is slated to begin the week of August 25 and will likely be complete by the first week of November.  Motorists can expect limited travel impacts while the bridge is under construction. Shoulder closures and lane closures controlled by a flagger will be used on a daily basis. Motorists should drive with caution through the work zone.

As always, folks can get up-to-date road travel info on the state's Web site.

Walnut Street reconstruction — further explained

By Philip Anselmo

Since more than a few folks have taken interest in the proposed roundabout for Walnut Street, we have put together some more information passed on by City Council President Charlie Mallow.

From a press release issued by the city:

The Walnut Street Project will involve the complete removal and reconstruction of the roadway, starting at the south City line and extending north to the Oak Street intersection. A modern roundabout will be installed at the Pearl/Franklin/South Main intersection. Additional infrastructure upgrades will include the replacement of curbing, the City of Batavia’s water main, sidewalks, driveway aprons, drainage structures, and street lighting. In addition, stabilization of the Tonawanda Creek stream bank, as well as a variety of landscaping improvements will be included in the project’s scope.

In preparing their construction schedule, CATCO has chosen to compress the roundabout and major street reconstruction work into the 2009 season.

Work that will be performed this year will include: utility relocation, drainage improvements, water main replacement, stream bank stabilization, railroad crossing replacement, building demolition.

City Manager Jason Molino says in the release that CATCO has split up the work over the two seasons to "minimize disruptions to the normal traffic flow ... and most importantly, lessen the project's impact on local residents."

The Batavian left a message for Molino to find out how postponing the major work until next year will "minimize disruptions" — wouldn't two years of work be more disruptive than finishing the project in a single season, for instance. We also plan to ask Molino how the project originated and was approved by City Council as there seems to have been some opposition to the roundabout, as noted in a survey conducted by the Batavia Area Jaycees in 2007. What was most shocking about the results of the survey was that many people did not even seem to know about the project.

The City plans to hold a public information meeting in February 2009 to review the construction schedule, work phasing, and proposed detours with local residents. The exact time and location of this meeting will be provided at a later date.  The City will also distribute project informational flyers to local residents on a quarterly basis.

If you have questions about the project, there are a few people you can contact:

  • Sally Kuzon, assistant city manager: (585) 345-6325
  • Larry Klotzbach, project engineer: (585) 259-0506
  • Dave Curtis, project superintendent: (716) 481-0571

UPDATE: City Council President Charlie Mallow notified The Batavian that, in fact, several public meetings were held about the construction of the roundabout, several stories about it appeard in the Daily News, and nobody contacted him or the council to voice their opposition to the project.

I have never received a negative phone call or any interaction that I can conclude as being negative towards going forward with a roundabout. In fact, its the opposite, people on Walnut want to know when they are getting their promised repairs. There was no opposition that I am aware of at all. People in the area are rightly concerned about timetables and how they are going to live and run their businesses in a construction site. All of that is being worked out and will be worked out before the work has started.

I must admit that I was a little surprised to hear that people disliked the idea of a roundabout. I am not a native of Batavia, and the first few times I drove down Oak Street to get through to Pearl Street, I was quite confused on how to maneuver the street connections there. What about you? Will you be glad to see a roundabout?

Walnut Street roundabout

By Philip Anselmo

One of our readers got curious after reading a post on The Batavian from earlier today about the postponement of the Walnut Street reconstruction and addition of a roundabout. Many thanks for Russ Stresing for getting us the following images. The first is an artist's rendering of the roundabout, once it is completed. Below that is a satellite view of what the area looks like now — that image is borrowed from the Genesee County Web site.

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