Foss: Bad roads are a year-round problem

Lack of maintenance, not winter, is main problem

It’s pothole season, but let’s be real: In the Capital Region, every season is pothole season. 

At least, that’s what it feels like. 

The potholes might be worse in the spring, especially if it’s been a long and trying winter. But they never truly go away, and many area roads have come to resemble the surface of the moon. 

So forgive me for rolling my eyes whenever elected officials behave as if bumpy, cratered and uneven streets are a seasonal phenomenon, like blackflies and ticks. 

In reality, our deteriorating streets are a fact of life, and a symptom of a larger problem: indifference to maintaining and repairing critical infrastructure. 

Last week Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that the state will spend an additional $100 million on paving projects statewide, and while this infusion of cash is welcome and necessary, it will only make a dent in a problem decades in the making. 

The funding will only be used to fix state highways, with at least one paving project planned for each county. It won’t be used to fix city, town and county roads, many of which are in terrible condition. 

There is some extra money for roads affected by the harsh winter: The state budget includes $65 million in “extreme weather recovery funds” for local roadways. It also includes $743 million in direct aid to local governments for road and bridge repair and modernization. 

With any luck, it won’t be long before area drivers see some improvement in the local roads. 

In the meantime, though, it’s worth asking how our roads got to this point, and why fixing them hasn’t been more of a priority. 

Each year the state spends millions of dollars on economic development projects of dubious efficacy. 

Wouldn’t it be nice if some of this money went toward improving the streets used by so many people? Road repair might not qualify as economic development, but most motorists view saving money on car repairs as a win for the pocketbook. 

Meanwhile, a new report on the state’s highway system, authored by former New York State Department of Transportation pavement manager John Shufon, suggests that the state’s highways are likely to get worse. 

Titled “The Road to Ruin,” and commissioned by Rebuild NY Now, a group that advocates public spending on infrastructure, the report predicts that pavement conditions “are going to worsen and worsen considerably.” 

There are a number of reasons for this, including “an ever growing backlog of pavement needs estimated most recently at $5.5 billion.” 

The report also notes that the paving cycle — the amount of time before a road is repaved — increased from 8.6 years in 2012 to 22.9 years in 2016. That’s a big jump — one drivers can feel beneath their wheels. 

Traveling around the Capital Region, I often find myself wincing as I roll over potholes and crumbling pavements. Sometimes I glance into the back seat to see whether a particularly nasty jolt has awakened or startled the baby.

We can pretend that potholes are a seasonal problem caused by bad weather. 

Those of us who drive know better. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.



Categories: Opinion

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