Capital Region county highway superintendents are bracing for the possibility of a 31 percent cut in state funding for highway repairs.
Fulton County Superintendent of Highways Mark Yost said he and a group of his peers from neighboring counties met Friday to discuss their strategy for lobbying the state Legislature against cutting their road budgets in 2009. He said the group will meet with state Sen. Hugh Farley, R-Niskayuna, in March to discuss the issue.
“We’re going to tell the state Legislature that if any additional federal money comes they should very quickly put that money into CHIPs because CHIPs is like cash for town and county highway departments,” he said, referring to New York state’s Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program, known as “CHIPs.”
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors decided to eliminate nearly all of the local part of capital spending for highway repaving and bridge repair and rely on $860,000 worth of CHIPs for 2009. Yost calculates a 31 percent cut according to tentative numbers released by Gov. David Paterson’s office. He said the cut would force him to repave only five miles of roads when he had hoped to repave 14 this year. The funding cut could also lengthen the timeline for road repaving for the county.
“It would mean the roads we repave this year won’t be touched again for another 30 years,” he said.
Schenectady County Director of Public Works Joe Ryan said his department is facing a $500,000 CHIPs cut while it is already reeling from millions of dollars in unexpected expenses from the July thunderstorms.
“This is like a double whammy,” he said.
Ryan said of the $3 million the Schenectady County Legislature budgeted for road and bridge repairs this year, about 40 percent was from CHIPs funding. He said the combined effect of state aid cuts and the July thunderstorms failing to qualify for federal disaster relief will substantially reduce his department’s road repaving efforts for years to come.
Yost and Ryan both said falling asphalt prices could mitigate some of the losses in state money but it’s impossible to determine how much.
“The days when you could get an asphalt price quote for the summer are over. The price changes day to day now,” Yost said.
Ryan said county governments will need to make state and federal officials aware of priority infrastructure repairs.
“We can’t just go to them crying, saying we need help. We have to tell them ‘here are the things we absolutely need to do’ and make our case to them,” he said.