Mayor: Amsterdam’s Church Street must wait until 2020

City seeks lead pipe remediation grant
To residents' dismay, Amsterdam's Church Street reconstruction work will likely require more time to plan and execute.
To residents' dismay, Amsterdam's Church Street reconstruction work will likely require more time to plan and execute.

AMSTERDAM — A $1.9 million project to rebuild Church Street in Amsterdam won’t be started until 2020, even though state funding has been secured to pay for it.

Residents of Church Street, including  Cherylann Saul, have been demanding the city reconstruct the street, which acts as a designated state truck route. Saul and other Church Street residents say the heavy truck traffic on the street has increased in recent years, shaking the foundations of their homes, knocking down pictures from walls and posing a risk to pedestrians. 

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 standstill. 

Saul frequently attends Amsterdam Common Council meetings and implores city leaders to take action to either ban truck traffic or rebuild the street.

“With the foundation of the road still not stable, a lot of houses are feeling the affects of the vibrations,” Saul told the council at its June 4 meeting.

In late May the state Division of the Budget approved a $1 million infrastructure improvement grant from the state Department of Transportation, which was first announced by State Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, in May 2018 — the same day as a $900,000 State and Municipal Facilities Program grant from the state Dormitory Authority secured by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam. The two pots of money were secured independently and without coordination between the legislators.

The grants secured by Santabarbara and Amedore effectively doubled the amount of money Amsterdam had originally requested to help reconstruct the road, which city officials say was incorrectly repaved in 2008.

Saul said she had hoped the approval of the Amedore grant would mean Amsterdam was ready to take action in 2019.

Mayor Michael Villa told Saul the city has not yet designed the road reconstruction, isn’t ready to put the project out to bid and he doesn’t want the project done in phases. He said he would like to get grant funding to do lead pipe remediation before tearing up the road. 

“If there are lead replacement [of] lines [that need to be done] on Church Street, we’re not going to pave the road and then dig it up to do lead replacement,” Villa said. “The lead lines will be done before this project is even started …. it’s more than likely this is a 2020 project. That’s the reality.”

“A project of this size is not something you want to do in a two-phased approach,” Villa said. “It has to have time. It has to be done correctly, because, as you are aware, it’s never been done correctly.” 

Saul said Villa’s commitment to replace lead pipes below Church Street before rebuilding it is the latest in a line of reasons the city seems to have for delaying the reconstruction process. 

City Engineer Richard Miller told the Daily Gazette in March that the city had increased the scope of its rebuilding project to $1.9 million, but needed to wait until both grants were approved before borrowing the money for the project. Santabarbara’s grant was available in January and then Amedore’s was approved in May. 

Santabarbara has chided the city for not using his grant to start the rebuild project. 

“This project could be done in phases, one, two or three phases, ” Santabarbara told the Daily Gazette in March.

After the state division of budget approved his grant in May, Amedore pushed back against the notion that his funding had delayed the Church Street project. He said the grant process didn’t take longer than many state grants he’s secured for other parts of his senate district in the past. 

“I’ve had grants that took much longer than this,” Amedore said. 

Villa said another reason for waiting until next year to do the Church Street project is that the city intends to bond for the money to start the reconstruction as part of a larger package of capital projects that will be bonded for all at once. 

“We have to secure borrowing before can even begin to undertake this project. That’s number one,” Villa said. “Number two we are trying to ascertain if there are any faults in the sewer or the water [lines] underneath the pavement before we begin that project. And the third issue is there is grant funding out there to replace lead piping that runs into the residences.”

“In the past the residents had to pay for the lines from their streets to the houses,” Villa said. “So, if funding becomes available for that then obviously [we want to get it]. The last thing we want to do, if we do a project of this size is to have to go back into the street and dig, so all of these factors have to be considered until that project gets underway.”

A Church Street reconstruction would entail significant traffic disruption. When the city did the surface repaving last year, truck traffic had to be rerouted. 
Villa said it would not be his preference to do the road rebuild during the heavy summer traffic that occurs around the time that horse racing season starts in Saratoga Springs in July.

Villa said his ideal time for the Church Street project to start would be February 2020. 

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