LOCKPORT – Faced with a pothole disaster it lacks the money to solve, the City of Lockport is seriously considering closing streets because of the winter damage.
“We really need to close certain streets,” Alderman John Lombardi III, R-1st Ward, said during a Common Council work session Wednesday. “We’re going to get more claims, more damage.”
He was referring to the ever-lengthening list of drivers filing claims against the city for repair bills.
“Local traffic only,” concurred Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward.
“We’re basically out of money for resurfacing, with the hot patch we’ve been using,” said Norman D. Allen, director of engineering and public works.
“We need to look at the bus routes for Lockport High School,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said. “I won’t make a rash decision.”
During the public Council session, McCaffrey apologized to residents for the condition of Lockport streets. “I know it’s extremely difficult right now,” she said. “We have a milling company coming Monday. We should see some improvement soon.”
But that depends on whether the city can use state highway aid to pay for the milling of some major streets and how good a job the city can afford to do.
Lombardi said, “We’ve never had the roads this bad. We’ve never had the workforce this low. We’ve never had no money.”
Allen, using the list of nine streets to be reconstructed that he presented to the Council last month, estimated it would cost $483,000 to mill off the top two inches of pavement and repave them after repairing utilities such as storm sewer receivers. It would cost $813,000 to mill the same streets six inches deep before repaving.
“I cannot guarantee a 10-year life expectancy with two-inch milling. It’s not the right way to do it,” Allen told the Council. “But the city’s between a rock and a hard place. We can’t leave the streets the way they are.”
The first streets targeted for milling next week are near the high school: Lincoln Avenue and Locust, Willow and Pine streets. McCaffrey, Allen and City Treasurer Michael E. White will meet to decide the proper balance of quality repair work and affordability.
White and McCaffrey said they are asking permission from Albany for a waiver of the normal rule that state Consolidated Highway Improvement Program aid, better known as CHIPS, can’t be used on the same street more than once a decade. They’re also waiting for $53,000 in one-time winter pothole aid that was included in the new state budget.
White said borrowing is a possibility, despite the city’s financial stress and lack of fund balance, if the decision is to do the job right.
“Do we do something that’ll keep people somewhat pacified for a couple of years, or do we forge ahead and take on more debt service?” he asked.
Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said, “I don’t like debt, but the interest rates are as low as they’re ever going to be.” He called for doing the best job possible.
Some aldermen complained that the street crews aren’t doing the best job possible. “I’m not finding any rhyme or reason for the patching,” Lombardi said. “How do you go half a block, stop and go someplace else?”
When McCaffrey suggested that each alderman should pick out the 10 worst potholes in their wards for repair, Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick, R-5th Ward, erupted. “I should be finding potholes because these guys won’t do their job?” he barked.
McCaffrey told the Council, “If you guys want to pick out some holes that are bad, I will get them filled. Otherwise, it’s up to the Streets Department.”
Ottaviano said, “Now we’re managing by crisis. Everybody’s mad.”