07.06.15

SCHUMER: TONAWANDA CREEK ROAD HAS BEEN CLOSED FOR MONTHS, AFTER COMPLETELY COLLAPSING DUE TO EROSION & LACK OF FED FUNDING TO MAINTAIN ROADS; CLOSURE CAUSING MAJOR INCONVENIENCE FOR LOCAL RESIDENTS AND FORCING CARS & FIRST RESPONDERS TO DIVERT TO DIFFERENT ROADS; SENATOR CALLS FOR IMMEDIATE PASSAGE OF FEDERAL HIGHWAY BILL TO HELP PAY FOR LOCAL NEEDS, LIKE URGENT ERIE COUNTY ROAD PROJECTS

Senator Says Impending Expiration Of Highway Funding Bill At The End Of The Month Could Be Devastating For Western New York, Allowing Roads Like Tonawanda Creek And Others Across WNY To Continue To Deteriorate, Leaving Locals To Foot The Bill 

Local Residents Have Been Looking At The Eyesore For Over A Month & Neighbors Worry How Emergency Vehicles Will Be Able To Get Through The Road Closure; Last Collapse Took Years And Millions Of County Dollars To Fix 

Schumer: Our Roads, Bridges & Tunnels Will Soon Be More Unsafe Now And Downright Dangerous For Future Generations If Large Fed Infrastructure Bill Isn't Passed Soon 

Standing at Tonawanda Creek Road in Clarence, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today launched an effort to urge Congress to pass a pass a long-term infrastructure bill that increases federal funding for roads and bridges, which is set to expire at the end of the month. Schumer said Tonawanda Creek Road is a prime example of why it is so important to pass a federal bill before it expires. Tonawanda Creek Road, a county-owned road in Clarence, remains closed after beginning to collapse over a year ago, due to erosion of the creek bed. Schumer said that Tonawanda Creek Road continued to deteriorate to the point where it is now closed off entirely, resulting in major inconveniences to residents and businesses in the local area.

What’s more, Schumer said, is community members worry this could severely impede emergency response, if first responders cannot get through the road closure. Schumer said while Erie County is tirelessly working on maintaining all county roads, just like every other county in New York State, they are simply short on road funds, due to a lack of federal funding. Therefore, Schumer said that an immediate long-term, robust infrastructure bill federal highway funding bill is vital to fixing Tonawanda Creek Road, and other roads, bridges and crumbling infrastructure across New York State.

“Right now, this situation is a lose-lose. Local governments should not have to pick and choose between projects, or try to foot the bill themselves without any guarantee they will be reimbursed,” said Schumer

Schumer continued, “Tonawanda Creek Road in the Town of Clarence is not only a problem for businesses and an inconvenience for residents, but it is also a safety hazard for emergency crews that need to travel out of the way when it could mean the difference between life and death. That is why I am pushing my colleagues in Congress to pass a bill to pass a long-term infrastructure bill that increases federal funding for roads and bridges"– which is too important to New York’s economy, and to our safety, to become insolvent. Congress should step up and reach a bi-partisan agreement to continue to provide the funding New York needs to carry out local road improvement projects like in the Town of Clarence on Tonawanda Creek Road.”

Tonawanda Creek Road is a county-owned road in Clarence that began to collapse about a year ago due to erosion of the creek bed. The road has continued to deteriorate to the point where it is now closed off entirely. That is why Schumer is pushing for a funding bill to be considered in Congress.  Schumer believes the funding bill is crucial to providing the federal dollars necessary to make road improvements, bridge repairs and kick start other critical infrastructure projects across the country and New York State, like Tonawanda Creek Road.

Schumer explained that Tonawanda Creek Road is now a major inconvenience to residents and businesses in the area, in addition to being a public safety hazard when emergency responders cannot proceed through the road closure. Tonawanda Creek Road directly intersects with Transit Road, one of the most heavily traveled thoroughfares in Western New York. Schumer explained the increased traffic volume on local roads has made the Tonawanda Creek Road area a residential headache, business deterrent, and potential public safety hazard.

While Erie County has been working to secure funding for the project, the county is just as short on infrastructure project funds as many other municipalities throughout the state. As a result, Schumer said federal highway funding could be used to pay for such a project, if this vital program does not expire at the end of the month. If the program does expire it could leave communities like those in Western New York without this necessary funding stream.

According to the Town of Clarence, Tonawanda Creek Road also collapsed two miles down the road just a few years ago. This last collapse took five years to fix and cost the county roughly $2.5-$3 million. This put a severe dent in the county budget. Because traffic now must be rerouted, local town-owned roads are suffering from more rapid deterioration and damage, further underscoring the fact that local municipalities rely on federal funding to fix roads, like Tonawanda Creek Road, bridges and other crumbling infrastructure across New York State.

According to the DOT, if the Highway Trust Fund is not properly funded, it could mean the delay or complete halt of about 112,000 roadway projects and 6,000 transit projects nationwide. In the case of New York, which receives over $1.6 billion annually from the Highway Trust Fund, there are approximately 409 highway projects currently underway in Upstate New York and Long Island with the help of the Highway Trust Fund that could be delayed or even abandoned if Congress does not reach an agreement. As of July 2014, there were 45 projects underway, worth over $193 million, in Western New York alone.

In addition, Schumer noted that New York State has nearly 7,000 bridges that are either functionally obsolete or structurally deficient and, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers, 60% of New York’s roads are in mediocre or poor condition, so any interruption in funding is also a safety concern.

As a result, Schumer said that an immediate long-term, robust infrastructure bill is needed to keep projects moving and to prevent strain on local governments. Schumer said Congress needs to passlong-term, robust infrastructure bill in order to ensure the Highway Trust Fund – a significant source of federal money that is allocated to states to help fund highway and mass transit construction projects – does not become insolvent on July 31. With adequate levels of funding in this legislation. States like New York receive federal funding in the form of a reimbursement for work on local infrastructure. The expiration of this program, however, would not just limit these federal reimbursements but stop them altogether.

If no agreement is reached to continue funding the Highway Trust Fund, Schumer said local governments could be forced to put construction projects that are already underway on hold and delay some that are in the planning stages. In addition, according to the White House, if Congress does not act, new federal disbursements to states from the Highway Trust Fund will be halted after September 30, local governments like Erie County will be forced to either foot the bill for highway construction projects with local tax dollars, without any guarantee of reimbursement, or put many projects on hold until a solution can be reached. 

Schumer was joined by Mark Poloncarz, Erie County Executive; John Lofredo, Commissioner, Erie County Department of Public Works; David Hartzell, Town of Clarence Supervisor: Jim Dussing, Town of Clarence Highway Superintendent; Dominic Teti, Business Representative, NYS Conference of Operating Engineers, Local 17;  and Gary Hill, President Union Concrete Construction and Chairman New York State General Contractors Association, local transportation advocate.

“There are roads and bridges all over Erie County that would benefit from increased federal transportation spending,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “Our highway department works diligently and creatively to do the most good with the resources we have, but more is desperately needed to improve infrastructure across the county. I applaud Senator Schumer’s continued efforts to support businesses, residents, and local governments who would benefit from renewal of the federal highway bill.”

“The closure of Tonawanda Creek Road was necessary, but has been a major inconvenience for residents in this neighborhood, and has had an impact on our town roads, which must be used more frequently due to the closure of this major thoroughfare,” said Town of Clarence Supervisor David Hartzell. “We are thankful for Senator Schumer’s continued advocacy on behalf of our town, and on behalf of our whole region that desperately needs increased funding for our crumbling roads and bridges.” 

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