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Monday, March 17, 2014 at 11:10 pm

County highway plows through stockpiles of salt during a very wintery winter

post by Howard B. Owens in County Highway Dept, roads, weather

For two consecutive winters, Genesee County used very little salt on roadways to help keep motorists safe, but what was saved disappeared quickly this winter, County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens told the Public Service Committee on Monday.

Because of the mild winters, Hens started the year with salt in salt barns that was two years old and an unspent salt budget from last year. By Jan. 1, it was all gone and spent.

"We burned through both the pile and the money in November and December," Hens said. "So coming into January 1, I was already anxious to buy more. We had our new budget and filled the barns up with salt again. We burned through all the money we had budgeted for salt this year in about a month and a half."

So far, Hens said, the highway department is about $25,000 in the red for road salt in 2014.

"I've still got, theoretically, a few more storms this spring, storms or ice or whatever we end up getting, and I've got to figure on next November, December, too, and anything outside of it," Hens said.

To ensure an adequate salt supply, Hens is shifting money from the summer and fall road maintenance budget.

That probably means there are some potholes that won't get fixed.

"As everybody knows from driving around, pothole season is just starting," Hens said. "As bad as the winter's been, the temperature fluctuations, the extreme temperature fluctuations, where it's 20 below to 50 in two days, that freeze, thaw cycle just tears the pavement apart.

"We've had three or four of those huge swings this winter," Hens added, "and the pavement's starting to show it. As that frost comes out the ground, it's only going to get worse."

Hens also shared the observation that during our heavy snowstorm a week ago, there were few drivers on the road.

That made road maintenance a lot easier.

People stayed home, Hens figures, because the memory of January's blizzard was still on their minds.

"That was a bad storm," Hens said. "That was probably the worst that I'd seen since the Blizzard of '77. That storm caught a lot of people off guard just because we hadn't had a bad storm like that in a long, long time. That was very fresh in people's minds, and when they said the word blizzard this time -- the National Weather Service was pretty good about putting a blizzard warning out -- everybody was like, 'OK, last time we had a blizzard, it was nasty. I'm staying home.' "

Tuesday, September 20, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Preventative maintenance on county roads slipping as funding remains tight

post by Howard B. Owens in genesee county, roads

When it comes to roads, there isn't much good news for the county, according to Tim Hens, highway superintendent.

There simply isn't money available for basic maintenance and with the cuts expected to the county budget, the county may not have the manpower this winter to operate snow plows.

The past several years, the towns have assisted the county as part of a shared services agreement, but the patience of town supervisors is wearing a little thin, Hens told the Public Services Committee on Monday.

"At the last meeting I got some blow back that enough is enough," Hens said.

County Manager Jay Gsell is asking all the departments in the county to cut spending by 5 percent.

For the highway department a five percent cut -- after years of trimming -- means layoffs, Hens said. That's all there is left to cut.

"Technically speaking, our staffing will be three people short of what we need to respond to a snow or ice event," Hens said.

Even if the county raises the property tax levy 2 percent, as allowed under a new state law, the increase won't even cover the anticipated rise in the county's retirement and medical expenses for 2012.

Without money to resurface roads as needed, the county has been sealing and patching cracks, Hens said, but many of the roads are well beyond these patchwork repairs.

"It's gotten to the point where even the public knows it's not the right treatment for the road," Hens said. "We get phone calls about it, but it's not like we don't know what we're doing. We have no option. There's no money and we're trying to stretch it as far as we can."

Among the cuts in the upcoming budget will be reduction painting pavement markings on county roads.

“That’s a service that people out on rural roads really depend on on a stormy night," Hens said. "That’s getting cut out."

This summer a bridge on Arnold Road in Elba had to be closed because one of the supports had completely rusted away. Funds from other bridge repairs had to be diverted to pay for the bridge to be replaced.

Several county-owned bridges now have weight limits on them that prevent fully loaded school buses from driving on them.

"Our snowplows really shouldn't be on them," Hens said.

It wasn't all bad news for the county that Hens delivered to the legislators, though.

Revenue is up about $100,000 at the county airport because of record fuel sales, and all the new hangars are leased and there's a waiting list for hangar space.

Also, a new online reservation system for county parks will make it easier for residents to book pavilions for parties and picnics.

The automated system will end the need for people to drive to the highway department facility on Cedar Street to make reservations and save about two hours per day of staff time to deal with reservations.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Candidates answer question on Genesee County's infrastructure needs

post by Howard B. Owens in Ian Murphy, Jack Davis, Jane Corwin, kathy hochul, NY-26, roads

In light of our story Tuesday about the sad state of our roads and bridges, at the candidates' forum yesterday, I wanted to ask the candidates what they would do about the problem.

Jane Corwin said we have a big problem with infrastructure and we need a comprehensive, long-term plan for funding from the federal government. She said infrastructure should be one of the highest priorities of the federal government.

But, she said, the government is spending too much money, driving up debt.

"We're spending too much money that is going toward interest payments not enough toward infrastucture," Corwin said.

Hochul's response contrasted the government's infrastructure spending with current foreign policy.

"I’m going to go out on a limb here," Hochul said. "We are probably spending more on roads in Pakistan and places like that where they’re not exactly our friends than we are right here in Genesee County. We’ve got to get our priorities straight. I’m starting to reexamine a lot of our commitment internationally."

Jack Davis and Ian Murphy did not attend the forum.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 10:08 am

County's transportation infrastructure aging fast, funds tight for repair and replacement

post by Howard B. Owens in bridges, roads, transportation

Genesee County is facing a problem of aging roads and bridges and not enough money to fix them, according to Tim Hens, county highway superintendent.

Hens made a presentation Monday to the legislature's Public Service Committee and said the average rating of county-owned roadways is 5.32, and for the nine bridges with spans of 20 feet or greater, the average rating is 5.02.

A rating of five on a scale of 1-9 is considered "deficient."

Funding for roadways and bridges comes from three primary sources: federal grants, state grants and local taxes.

Typically, the state has provided $1.3 million per year, but it's not clear if those grants will continue at all or at the same level.

"If we don’t get that money from the state next year, we’re looking at either differing that amount of highway maintenance next year or coming up with funding ourselves," Hens told the committee.

There's also talk of cutting federal funds by as much as 30 percent, Hens said.

As for the bridges, many of them were built in the 1950s and 1960s are reaching the end of their expected life. Some of them are eligible for federal grants for repair and replacement, but those grants are spread out over several years.

And because of the formula used by the Fed to determine eligibility, some bridges aren't eligible for funding because they haven't uniformly fallen to a 5 rating.  

The bridge over the Tonawanda Creek at River Street is an example, Hens said. While parts of the bridge rate below a 5, other parts of the bridge rate well above 5. 

Hens said he's been trying to get a grant to replace the bridge for years. At some point, the county may just need to close it.

Bridges and culverts that are less than 20 feet in length are not eligible for federal grants, so the county must pick up the entire tab.

An example is a culvert bridge on Linden Road over the Little Tonawanda Creek. It's near the end of its life cycle but it would cost the county more than $3 million to replace it.

"Our choices are not replace the bridge and force residents in the hamlet to be separated forever and find alternative routes," Hens said, "or pay for it."

Other problem bridges are on Kilian Road in Pembroke and Griswold Road in Stafford.

With the Griswold Road bridge, school buses are no longer allowed to drive over it and snow plows won't go over it. It simply can no longer support that much weight. (The rusted beam picture above comes from the Griswold Road bridge.)

As for roadways, an asphalt road is expected to have a 50 35-year life span with resurfacing every eight to 10 years and preventative maintenance (crack sealing, for example) on a regular basis.

Currently, the county is behind schedule on preventative maintenance for more than 56 miles of roadway.

In all, 26 percent of the county's roadways are considered deficient.

Besides cuts in funding and many of these roads and bridges reaching the end of their useful life all at about the same time, the cost of materials, Hens said, are skyrocketing.

He recommended that the county develop a long-term needs analysis and then consider funding options, which may include bonds.

The committee was not asked to take any action on the report.

Photos provided by Tim Hens and were used in his report.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 7:29 am

Road Conditions

post by William Buckley in batavia, roads, snow, weather

All road segments mentioned below plowed and passable now, though E/W Saile is still somewhat slick as of about 7:15. Some lanes are not fully cleared yet, but there is a clear path of travel in both directions.

Road Conditions as of 6:00 AM:
Main St. From Tops (5/63 Split) to Aldi (5/33 Split): Passable, was able to maintain speed limit.

63 from Main to Oakfield: "Snowball's Chance," slick, could not safely exceed 35 in 55 zone, TBFD called out to 8100 block (My-T Acres area) for vehicle off the road into the South/West tree line.

Hawley (GCC): "Snowball's Chance," in some spots even 25 did not seem to be a safe speed, unplowed as of 4:50. Eastbound appears to have been cleared now.

33 from Main to Batavia Stafford Townline/Seven Springs: Passable, cautiously.

E & W Saile Dr. (Airport) : Again, "Snowball's Chance," highly variable condition, slick, unplowed as of 5:00.

98 from W Saile to Thruway Entrance: Could not safely exceed 40.

Edit Notes:
8:20 AM - Added updated conditions, fixed Hawley direction described earlier, I lost my sense of direction.

Monday, August 10, 2009 at 10:26 pm

City could use federal funds to improve Cedar and Summit streets

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Cedar Street, roads, Summit Street

The City of Batavia could reconstruct both Cedar Street and Summit Street at no direct cost to local taxpayers, the City Council was told tonight.

By combining annual federal infrastructure funds the city already gets with an 80-percent funding grant, the city could complete $5.7 million projects by 2012 and not a dime would come from city coffers.

The 80-percent grant is Federal money that is administered by the state.

The city must apply for the grant.

Reconstruction would rebuild the streets rather than just repave them, which was recently done to Oak Street.

Summit will cost an estimated $2.2 million and Cedar, $3.5 million.

The city plans to move ahead with design work that will put it in a position to receive the grants, using funding already available from the feds.

Thursday, January 15, 2009 at 11:43 am

City police urge caution on slick roads

post by Philip Anselmo in commute, driving, ice, police, roads, winter

Scenes similar to this clean up yesterday at the site of a head-on collision on Clinton Street Road in the city have been common over the past few days. Below zero temperatures have kept the road salt from doing its work and frequent snowfalls have kept the plows more than busy.

In response, the city of Batavia police have issued a statement urging motorists to drive cautiously and maybe drive a little more slowly than they normally would.

In the past 24 hours the Batavia Police Department has investigated about 15 motor vehicle accidents. Only a few resulted in minor injuries. With the extreme cold weather conditions and the snow we have received, the city streets remain slippery and icy especially at intersections. Even after being treated, the intersections and streets become icy quickly with the near zero temperatures we are experiencing.
We are asking all drivers in the city to use extreme caution and to slow down, especially when approaching intersections.

Monday, December 22, 2008 at 3:45 pm

Travel advisory lifted for Genesee County

post by Philip Anselmo in genesee county, roads, storm, weather, winter

The Genesee County Sheriff's Office lifted the travel advisory for the county at 2 o'clock this afternoon. "There is still blowig and drifting snow, however all roads are passable and visibility has improved," according to a released statement. "Roads are snow packed and slippery and extreme caution is advised when driving."

If you have gone out today, how have you found the roads?

Friday, December 19, 2008 at 12:08 pm

Thruway near Pembroke is a hot spot for speeding tickets... but probably not today

post by Philip Anselmo in Democrat & Chronicle, driving, pembroke, roads, speeding, thruway

A special section in this Sunday's Democrat & Chronicle will run down the details on speeding tickets: what to do when you get pulled over and what to do once you've got the ticket. Folks in Genesee County may want to pay close attention. Pembroke, it turns out, ranks third in number of tickets issued for the Thruway.

Pembroke, Genesee County, is the No. 3 spot on Interstate 90 for speeding tickets, according to a Democrat and Chronicle analysis of state Department of Motor Vehicle records. Last year, State Police issued almost 5,000 tickets resulting in convictions along the stretch of the Thruway in Genesee County; 1,738 were issued in Pembroke. Pembroke Town Court allows most speeders to plead to a lesser violation by mail.

Somehow, I don't think speeding will be a problem there today. Here are the current conditions at the Pembroke interchange:

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