Erie County will take on $36 million in road, bridge and dam projects this construction season, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz announced Wednesday.
“This is significantly more money than was spent during the last two years of work,” Poloncarz said during a news conference in Stiglmeier Park, off Losson Road in Cheektowaga.
One of the most long-awaited and costly of the projects is the $12 million rehabilitation of East Robinson and North French roads between Niagara Falls Boulevard and Sweet Home Road in Amherst, which will convert the two-lane road into a five-lane highway.
“It’s going to be reconstructed, widened, and the intersections improved,” said John Loffredo, commissioner of public works.” That’s going to go for 2½ seasons.”
Other key projects include new overlays to Como Park Boulevard and Losson Road in Cheektowaga, which will cost about $700,000 and $1 million, respectively.
The county also plans to spend $400,000 in safety improvements at Strickler and County roads in Clarence, the site of a few high-profile, fatal accidents in recent years, including one in 2009 that killed four teenagers.
“There is going to be a flashing light installed instead of stop signs, and the intersection is going to be regraded. There are sight-distance problems, we think, so it’s going to be regraded, too, and that should help the situation. I don’t know if it’s going to solve the problem,” Loffredo said.
A $1 million road reconstruction project for Zoar Valley in Concord, as well as $650,000 in bridge maintenance projects in Aurora, Alden, Amherst and other sites are also on the county schedule.
“The work that we’re doing is being spread across every part of the county. From Sardinia to Tonawanda ... and Alden, Holland, Concord, Evans, Hamburg and places in between, county residents will be pleased to see improvements in their roads and bridges,” Poloncarz said.
The county’s ambitions are apparently outstripped by its resources, according to Poloncarz, which means some long-standing maintenance issues will not be addressed this season.
“We actually had planned on doing a few more projects this year, but we had to cut back on that as a result of the budgetary issues and the shortfall that was created by the Legislature last year. So, hopefully, we’ll be able to get to those projects in the future,” said Poloncarz.
The county prioritizes road and bridge repair projects to address based on the severity of their condition and how long each has been in a state of disrepair. Its grading system is also partially based on motorists’ and residents’ complaints.
“Our goal is to ensure that we get the worst-rated roads – and bridges,” Poloncarz said.
Legislator Thomas Mazur, D-Cheektowaga, who sits on the Legislature’s Capital Budget Committee, said he was pleased at the number of projects being undertaken, even though there is a road in his district that is in need of repair but remains at the bottom of the county’s priorities.
“We have a limited amount of money all the time to do these projects, but our last budget was a disaster. We had six legislators that voted to take $8.5 million out of the budget. That’s $8.5 million that we could have used for another project. All these projects are important,” said Mazur.
Under those circumstances, he said, there is little room for those legislators to complain about roads that remain unattended in their districts. Still, Mazur and Poloncarz insisted that none of the county’s rural districts is being short-changed. Some projects have languished on the county’s list of priorities for years. It took 10 years to address East Robinson Road and 17 years to secure the funds to make repairs to Wehrle Drive in Amherst, Loffredo said. The more money the county has to leverage additional state and federal resources, the more the long-standing projects the county is able to tackle, Poloncarz said.
“East Robinson Road alone is a multimillion-dollar project. If we were to spend just county money on it, we’d have to basically shut down every other project that we were planning to spend county money on,” Poloncarz added.
He estimated that it costs between $1 million and $1.5 million to reconstruct one lane-mile of road among Erie County’s total of 2,400 lane-miles. The county is investing about $12 million, which will be leveraged by an additional $24 million in state and federal funds to pay for the projects.
“Erie County has more lane-miles of road than the states of Rhode Island, Delaware and Hawaii do, and these roads are, of course, spread across urban, suburban and rural settings,” Poloncarz said.