AMSTERDAM — Once seen as a boon to the city, the receipt of two state grants for the same Church Street reconstruction project from legislators of different parties has caused the start of the project to be delayed until at least 2020, according to some city officials.
City Engineer Richard Miller says Amsterdam will not begin a $1.9 million project to reconstruct Church Street between Cornell Street and Clizbe Avenue until the city receives state approval for both funding streams, and that won’t be this year. Miller said he is uncertain when final approval for both grants will be received.
“I haven’t got a clue,” he said.
But Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, one of the two state lawmakers who obtained the grants, said that is not true for his grant, and the city could begin working on the project.
In May, state Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, and Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, separately, but on the same day, announced they had helped secure state grant funding to help reconstruct a portion of Church Street, a street that serves as a New York state truck route.
Amedore produced a $1 million infrastructure improvement grant from the State Department of Transportation, and Santabarbara secured a $900,000 State and Municipal Facilities Program grant from the New York state Dormitory Authority.
When the grants were announced, city officials, as well as Amedore and Santabaraba, indicated the “double funding” for the project would enable the city to do an expanded project, addressing the concerns of residents of the Church Street area who have been complaining about the damage done to their homes and the street by the number of heavy trucks that drive on it every day.
Part of the need to improve Church Street stems from what city officials have characterized as a failed project to repave the street in 2008. They say that left the road in dangerously deteriorating condition.
The city was unable to allocate any of the $1.5 million in its Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS) for 2018-19 because the state requires at least a 10-year period between repaving the same street with CHIPS money.
The city was able to complete a temporary repair to portions of upper Church Street before winter started, but the main reconstruction project, which is to include a reconfiguration of the “five corners area” as well as straightening out the catch basins, has remained at a stand-still.
Miller said Amsterdam will need to bond for the $1.9 million first and then receive reimbursement from the state funding streams.
He said the money secured by Santabarbara can’t be released until the DOT grant from Amedore receives final approval.
“If the city proceeds before agreements are signed, [the two state agencies] will not reimburse you,” he said.
But Santabarbara said the grant his office obtained for the city is not in any way contingent on the Amedore funding, and the city could begin its reconstruction project immediately.
“The money that was secured in the Assembly was approved by the Division of Budget in January, and has been available for use by DASNY [New York State Dormitory Authority], and the city could use that money as we speak to be reimbursed for any expenses of that project,” Santabarbara said. “I asked if they needed DOT approval, and the answer was they clearly don’t.”
Amedore was unavailable for comment for this story, but a member of his staff confirmed that the funding from his office is completely independent of the funding secured by Santabarbara. An official with Amedore’s office said the grant he secured is still waiting for final approval from the state Division of the Budget.
Santabarbara said when he first discussed the road reconstruction project with Miller in 2018, he was told the estimated cost of repaving the road was $900,000, which was why he advocated for that size grant from DASNY. He said the project grew in scope to $1.9 million after the Amedore money was announced.
“This project could be done in phases, one, two or three phases, ” Santabarbara said. “These projects can be done in a number of ways. There’s no reason this project can’t be started this year. There’s an argument to be made that it should have started last year,” he said.
Fourth Ward Alderman David Dybas, who represents the Church Street area, has been critical of the city not beginning the Church Street project this year. He said city officials have not been accurately communicating the availability of the state funding for the project.
“As Assemblyman Santabarbara has said, the money is there. Who’s dragging their feet? Who’s lying?” Dybas asked.
Mayor Michael Villa said the city can’t responsibly borrow $1.9 million for the road reconstruction project until it knows for certain that both funding streams are available to reimburse the city.
“The city is not in a position to go ahead and authorize a $1.9 million project, and somehow we don’t get the $1.9 million …,” he said.
Villa blasted Dybas for accusing city officials of lying about the road project and the state grants.
“It’s ludicrious to say that someone is lying. The city of Amsterdam did its job. We secured funding through the application process, so now it’s up to the state to release the funds. I have a meeting in the Capitol [Thursday] on another issue, and certainly I’ll bring it up, but this isn’t the city’s fault. The Senate’s [political majority] has flipped. Things happen. Things change, and things are going to get delayed,” Villa said.
“Obviously the senators on the Republican side do not have as much say as to what happens as they did six months ago. Those are the facts of life. It doesn’t mean the project isn’t going to get funded.”
Dybas in February said he intended to introduce a city local law to ban truck traffic on Church Street, which is also state Route 67.
Villa then said he did not want city police enforcing a truck ban that might be in violation of New York state’s designation of the street as a truck traffic. Villa said enforcing a truck ban would likely put the city into a costly legal battle with trucking companies and possibly into conflict with New York state at a time when the city needs the state’s help to address its approximately $9 million budget deficit.
Church Street residents, including Cherylann Saul, have been pushing for a truck ban or a compact roundabout to be constructed to calm the speed of the trucks.
Miller said that even though the $1.9 million is more than the city originally estimated the reconstruction project would cost, there isn’t enough funding even with both grants to construct a compact roundabout. He said state DOT has indicated there won’t be any funding for a compact roundabout until at least 2021. He said the $1.9 million road reconstruction will not affect any future compact roundabout being built on Church Street.
“The compact roundabout [would be] up on the far east end of the project, and it’s not going to be an area that we’re paving,” he said.
Dybas has not yet introduced local legislation to ban the trucks, stating he wants state DOT to provide clarity on whether the street is considered a state highway, and if so why is the city of Amsterdam required to maintain it. Dybas has argued that if New York state wants to maintain Church Street as a truck route it should reconstruct the street to the specifications of a state highway, which might mitigate some of the complaints of residents who say vibrations from the trucks have done damage to their homes.
Santabarbara said he believes the City Council may have the authority to ban truck traffic on Church Street, but if they don’t he said he would introduce state legislation, if necessary, to change the truck route designation.
“This road was a residential road, way before it was a truck route,” he said. “People live there, and we have to keep that in the back of our minds. If there is a way to get those trucks of this road, and give these residents back the peaceful enjoyment of their neighborhood, then we need to find a way to do that,” he said.
Villa said he does not support a truck ban for Church Street. He said if every community in New York state started banning truck traffic it could have negative economic consequences.
“Trucks are the number one way that goods are transported in this country.” Villa said.