Anyone who’s done any driving around Schenectady this spring hardly needed Sunday’s Gazette story to tell them that the city’s roads are in atrocious shape. And given the weekend’s other non-news news story — Saturday’s, about the city having the region’s highest tax burden — the idea of raising taxes to pay for the fix these awful roads need would appear to be a nonstarter. But maybe not.
Consider that the condition of more than half of the city’s 53 miles of road was rated either “poor” or “fair-minus” by the city’s own engineer. (He was probably inclined to understate the severity of the problem for political reasons.) Consider also that roads in that condition cost motorists money — by chewing up their tires, throwing their wheels out of alignment, snapping their axles, wrecking their racks, etc. Finally, consider that pothole-ridden roads are an accident waiting to happen, as they encourage motorists to drive like they were skiing the giant slalom.
So any savings taxpayers might realize by the city taking the slow road to fixing what should have been fixed all along will really be illusory if they have to spend more in car repairs, body work and medical care. As the headline in Sunday’s story indicated, the city’s road situation is a crisis; and the business-as-usual approach officials seem inclined to adopt for dealing with it — which will take at least a decade — is unacceptable.
Thus a case could be made for extraordinary measures — like a temporary tax hike of a few years’ duration to pay for the work. To ease the burden slightly on homeowners, this could take the form of a special road assessment (like the city’s garbage fee) that all property owners would have to pay. Or it could be a city-only gas tax of a penny or two per gallon, with the proceeds dedicated to road repair.
Of course, raising taxes of any kind in this city is politically difficult, given the extraordinary burden its taxpayers already shoulder. Perhaps that’s the argument the city needs to make to convince the state and federal governments that its roads are of far greater concern than the $14 million Erie Boulevard makeover — and thus the city should be allowed to trade in grants supporting that project for a giant road pavement project instead. But no sidewalks!