Dan Hust | Democrat
SULLIVAN COUNTY DIVISION of Public Works Civil Engineer Dermot Dowd holds a core sample of a county road that suffered water infiltration and damage, part of last week’s bus tour of county-owned roads and bridges in great need of repair and/or replacement.
Tour reveals county's crumbling roadway infrastructure
By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO Last Thursday’s bus tour of some of Sullivan County’s roads and bridges opened legislators’ eyes to the challenges the Division of Public Works (DPW) faces every day.
And it showcased the effects of funding shortfalls in the face of steeply increasing costs.
“You don’t get a sense just driving over it,” explained DPW Commissioner Bob Meyer.
For two hours, county officials bounced around 22 miles in the towns of Thompson and Forestburgh, picked for their proximity to the Government Center. Stops along the way were chosen to display cracked and rutted pavement and rusting and deteriorating bridges.
To that end, the trip was quite sobering.
St. Joseph’s Road (County Route 108) in Forestburgh sees less than 100 cars a day but is noticeably rutted and full of “alligator” cracks.
Cost to repair: $400,000, though it could be far more if outsourced, as contract work is past the $200,000-a-mile mark, according to DPW Civil Engineer Dermot Dowd.
County Bridge 82 on County Route 49 spans the Neversink River just before it exits Sullivan County. Water and salt have taken their toll on the steel and concrete, though the 47-year-old structure successfully withstood two recent rounds of heavy flooding.
Cost to repair: $500,000, which the county will shortly be undertaking.
Through a Board of Supervisors decision in the 1980s, the county owns and maintains every township road bridge over 20 feet in length comprising 60 percent of the county’s 400 bridges.
One of those is a one-lane, 58-year-old wood and steel structure on Mill Road near Forestburgh. Rust and decay have required a 15-ton weight limit to be posted, but the county’s push to close the bridge was stopped by residents and emergency workers who worried about the ramifications.
Cost to repair: $240,000.
“The bridge was scheduled to be replaced this year, but we couldn’t do it due to funding,” explained DPW Bridge Engineer Bob Trotta.
The county is spending $8-$10 million this year to rehab roads and bridges countywide ($4 million of which is local-taxpayer-funded), but DPW officials feel $15-$20 million is really needed to get the infrastructure up to acceptable standards.
Such a move, however, would have major consequences on taxpayers, said County Manager David Fanslau.
“That equates to a 14 percent tax increase,” he calculated.
And the escalating costs of materials especially petroleum-based asphalt means the DPW is facing a $5 million-a-year bill just to maintain the status quo.
“The federal and state governments need to dedicate a lot more funds,” remarked Fanslau, “… because it’s not realistic for the taxpayers to fund it.”
Trotta blamed part of the situation on state and federal CHIPS (Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program) funding shortfalls. For two decades’ worth of ever-increasing costs, $100,000 has remained the upper limit the county can receive on in-house jobs.
“We need for state legislators to increase that level of funding,” he said, to at least $250,000.
Legislator Kathy LaBuda, chair of the Public Works Committee, promised to introduce a resolution to urge the state to do just that.
Till that happens, however, the future is a challenging one.
“We have to obviously make some tough decisions and prioritize,” said Dowd.