New York State County Highway Superintendents Association

County Highway Officials: Local Roads and Bridges Facing Funding Cliff


Albany, NY -- (ReleaseWire) -- 01/04/2013 --New York may have $89 billion in unmet infrastructure needs over the next 20 years, according to a blockbuster report released by the State Comptroller, “Growing Cracks in the Foundation: Local Governments are Losing Ground on Addressing Vital Infrastructure Needs.”

“The New York State County Highway Superintendents Association (NYSCHSA), whose members contributed to this review of the troubling condition of roads, bridges and other local infrastructure, applauds Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s efforts to shine a bright light on the true immediate and long-term impacts of neglecting the funding needs of local transportation infrastructure,” said David Hartman, the Association’s President and Yates County Highway Superintendent.

Local governments are responsible for nearly 97,400 centerline miles of roadways and almost 9,000 bridges; that’s 87% of all roads and 50% of bridges statewide. Travel on New York’s highway network exceeds 133 billion vehicle miles, with 48 percent of it occurring on local roads. In the last 15 years, travel has increased by over 21.5 billion vehicle miles per year, or more than 19 percent. A study by the New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) estimated that New York needs to invest $175.2 billion over the next 20 years on its multimodal transportation systems.

According to the Comptroller’s Office, total capital spending by local governments has increased by more than 30 percent over the past ten years. However, fuel costs have increased 190 percent and asphalt costs are up 206 percent. Further, materials for highway and road construction increased 57 percent over the same period. “I’m stating the obvious when I say that these figures demonstrate that our counties cannot possibly keep up with this huge loss in buying power. We continue to do battle against our deteriorating systems, but we’re losing the war,” Hartman warned.

For the last few decades, county highway superintendents have practiced well-established pavement preservation strategies that concentrate investments in cost-effective preventive maintenance. This preservation approach is similar to that employed for other types of transportation assets like bridges and culverts. According to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, every $1 spent in maintaining a good road avoids spending $6-$14 to rehabilitate or rebuild one that has deteriorated.

“The goal is to extend the life of our roads, bridges, culverts, equipment, garages and other assets,” Hartman explained. “We see the trends and we understand what we’re up against.”

Highway professionals know that timely intervention with appropriate maintenance will result in the lowest life-cycle costs, thereby getting the most out of every transportation dollar.

Officials in Madison County who were cited in the Comptroller’s report noted their need to rehabilitate or reconstruct about 25 miles of county highway annually. But for the last five years or more, the county has only been able to rehabilitate about 12 to 15 miles per year, 40 percent less than needed. Bridges also are at risk.

“We’ve lost ground trying to maintain our bridges over the last five years,” said Madison County Highway Superintendent Joe Wisinski. The County has about 130 bridges, many of which are beyond their useful life. Since the bridges have a design life of between 50 and 75 years, the County must replace or rehabilitate about two bridges per year. “Despite this reality, we’ve not been able to budget for a full bridge replacement or rehabilitation since 2009.”

In Rensselaer County, County Engineer Wayne Bonesteel faces a similar situation. The cost of roadway improvements nearly double when going from a condition rating of 7 to a rating of 6. As of May 2012, about 36% (120 centerline miles) of the County’s roads are rated 6 or below. “Our pavement preservation program, like our bridge and culvert maintenance programs, are grossly underfunded,” Bonesteel said. “I treat 15 to 18 miles of roadway a year when I need to treat 33. About 27% of our County bridges are considered deficient by DOT’s rating system with more added to this list each year. Without increases in funding, we can predict the future condition of our local transportation system and it’s not sustainable,” Bonesteel worried.

The Comptroller’s “Cracks in the Foundation” report accurately predicts the dire consequences should the local highway and bridge funding deficits continue. “With state aid to local transportation frozen for the past five years and a reduction in federal dollars allocated to local projects, state officials need to step up and adequately fund these needs in the next state budget,” Hartman urged.

Since 1909, members of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association (NYSCHSA) have gathered to share their knowledge and experience. A non-profit organization, the Association promotes the construction and maintenance of a safe and modern system of county roads and other allied transportation infrastructure maintained by county government. NYSCHSA’s members are responsible for more than 20,400 miles of county highways and over 9,000 local bridges in New York State.