NEWARK — It was one of the most complained-about roads in the village, Highway Superintendent Dave Harder said.
Maybe it won’t be anymore.
Crews have spent the last two weeks paving Route 88 north of Union Street through the village, along with Pierson Avenue and several side streets. The project required an additional $400,000 in spending to complete after highly anticipated federal funding to reconstruct Route 88 fell through. In all, the village spent $650,000 on paving village streets this year. About $240,000 of that was through state funding. The remaining amount will come from the fund balance.
“It’s a Band-Aid,” Harder said. “But people were calling for it.”
Harder said the original reconstruction project plan was to tear out the substructure of the road and replace water and sewer lines. He said the original brick roadway and probably even trolley tracks could be found in the roadway’s substructure, and the waterlines there are probably the oldest section in town. The project may be a Band-Aid, but Harder said the work crews did will last the village up to 10 years.
Crews milled 2 to 3 inches of the existing road and then replaced an even 2 inches all along Route 88. The village contracted out work on the manholes to have each of them raised to be level with the road so drivers will no longer feel the need to dodge them, Harder said. The center yellow line, he said, has been measured to ensure it now runs down the exact middle of the road as well. Late last week, crews were finishing up intersection approaches and on Friday they paved Pearl Street.
The reconstruction of Route 88 was slated to begin in 2014, but was delayed once again after the federal government changed the way projects were scored to be eligible for funding. The funding would cover some 85 percent of the project’s cost, with an additional 10 percent coming from the state, leaving only 5 percent for the local share. Based on the current scoring system for allotting road-repair funds, it was possible the village would never get federal funding for the road, which was in serious disrepair. But it wasn’t just Route 88 the village hoped to receive funding for. Other village projects were also left out in the cold.
The village wasn’t the only rural community to be denied funding. Federal funding in the Rochester region is distributed through the Genesee Transportation Council, made up of local officials, including Board of Supervisors Chairman Jim Hoffman, who is vice chairman on the GTC. The council compiles a list of projects from throughout the region in hopes of qualifying for federal funding. Every two years the list is updated and projects are selected to receive funding based on specific criteria. Of the $122 million in projects approved for federal funding this year, all but two were in Monroe County.
“The funding is just not available anymore,” Hoffman said. “There are five bridges in Wayne County that are closed because we don’t have the funding to fix them.”
Federal funding for transportation projects comes from the Highway Trust Fund, which relies on taxes and fees on tires and heavy duty trucks. But the primary source, two-thirds, comes from the gas tax. Some 18.4 cents of every gallon of gas goes to the federal government, 15.44 cents of that goes directly to the highway fund. On average, a typical driver pays only about $2.25 a week to the highway fund, and it’s not enough to keep the fund going, Richard Perrin, AICP, executive director for the GTC, said.
Since 2008, the federal government has transferred $35 billion to the highway fund just to maintain a status quo. In July 2012, the current federal surface transportation authorization legislation, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century was enacted and included nearly $20 billion in additional transfers from the general fund to the highway fund in 2013 and 2014, Perrin said.
The problem is twofold. While the cost for materials to repair and maintain roads and bridges has gone up, vehicles are being made more fuel efficient, and the amount of driving people are doing has leveled off, Perrin said. Add in the new models of hybrid and electric vehicles that don’t pay any gas tax and it shows the ratio between the amount of wear and tear on roadways and how much is being paid to maintain the roads is grossly mismatched.
“Simply put: How do we maintain a 20th century transportation system, much less build the network we need to compete globally in the 21st century, when the average driver contributes the cost of a cup of gourmet coffee each week?” Perrin asked.
Frozen for two decades now, there have been several proponents for raising the gas tax, many in the auto and gas industry, all recognizing the necessity to have working roads and bridges, Perrin said. There are options to invest more money into transportation, the most immediate being an increase in the gas tax, although the amount of the increase has ranged from 10 cents per gallon to upwards of 40 cents per gallon. Longer term solutions include a motor fuel sales tax, increasing registration fees, charging tolls on roads and a “vehicle-miles-traveled fee” that would charge a person based on how many miles they travel on average. Concerns with the latter address the inequity for rural counties like Wayne, where many residents must drive longer distances to reach destinations simply because they live in a country setting.
A 2011 household travel survey done by the GTC explored how, where and why people in the region travel. Residents were asked how they felt about a 10-cent increase in the gas tax and their response, 70 percent, was overwhelmingly opposed to the idea, Perrin said. However, when asked how they felt about the increase if the money was dedicated to maintaining roads and bridges, the outcome was quite different, with only 22 percent opposing, 57 percent in favor and the remaining having no opinion.
“This is consistent with referendums throughout the nation to raise revenues for transportation,” Perrin said. “(It) demonstrate that in many cases the majority of people are willing to pay more if they know that their hard-earned dollars will actually go towards infrastructure projects that will improve economic opportunity and quality of life.”
At the Aug. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, Arcadia Supervisor Dick Colacino noted the serious impact the closing of bridges over the Erie Canal has on congestion and the impediment to emergency response vehicles the closures cause. The matter was turned over to the Public Works Committee with the intent to gather information and support from town boards to formulate the best approach and position for Wayne County to take to state and federal officials.
Concern surrounding the closing of bridges in Wayne County led Perrin to question whether the state can afford to keep all the bridges they have in today’s economic times.
Hoffman said the lack of funding for local roads and bridges is a concern, but there is no easy solution.
“I don’t want to raise taxes, nobody does,” he said, referring to the gas tax. “But the money just isn’t there anymore.”