DOT Region One Program Manager Frank Bonafide and Region One Director Sam Zhou speak to members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors June 17.
The regional director of the state Department of Transportation put himself on the hot seat in front of members of the Essex County Board of Supervisors June 17.
Sam Zhou, Region 1 director, asked members of the Finance Committee for their concerns, as he was joined by Regional Program Manager Frank Bonafide and Essex County Resident Engineer Steve Clinton.
“We are not going to come here and promise everybody something because there are always going to be more needs than the resources that we have,” Zhou said. “One of the major shifts is that we are into the preservation mode. The vast majority of our capital dollars are going into preserving the current system.”
“Our current goal is to keep the current system in operating condition and safe to traffic,” Bonafide said. “Where is the traffic and where do we serve the most taxpayers is the driving issue. In the last couple years, we have dealt with Route 86 and 22 in Willsboro. We are going to try and deal with Route 73, but you have to keep in mind that there is just not enough funds and we are going to have to pick and choose carefully.”
Zhou said that the state focus has been based on usage of roadways more than condition, which gives the northern region counties a sense that they are receiving less funding than their counterparts closer to Albany.
“I understand the feeling from the rural counties that most of the money goes to the three major counties surrounding the capital region,” he said. “Our guiding principle is that we address the most utilized of roads first, so that tends to be in the capital region. That being said, I can assure that we never ignore issues anywhere. There are needs all over the place, and you are not being ignored. I hope that my being here today proves that.”
Zhou also said that his office would work harder with local officials to seek advice and provide information on upcoming projects.
“We should do a better job communicating with the towns and officials before we start doing work in their area,” he said. “I want to make sure that every project that goes out in the region starts with a good dialogue between us and the local officials because they are not just sprung on the communities.”
North Elba Supervisor Roby Politi said that he had been contacted several times by Zhou as plans were being made to work on Route 73 between Keene and his town.
“No one has ever called me up on the phone until you and asked me for thoughts on the road between North Elba and Keene and if I felt that they could do a one lane alternating and when they could do it,” Politi said.
Several supervisors addressed concerns to Zhou. Schroon Supervisor Michael Marnell said Route 9 needed to be repaired because it was hurting emergency responders.
“They cannot perform work on a patient between the village and Exit 27 because of the road conditions,” Marnell said. “They are losing six or seven minutes in cases when minutes are critical.”
Crown Point Supervisor Charles Harrington asked if something could be done at the intersection of Sugar Hill Road and Route 9 in the hamlet.
“This intersection has caused a lot of concern, especially for those who are not familiar with the area,” Harrington said. “We have applied for a round-about grant and for crosswalks to be placed and we have been denied on both. The problems are especially when you are heading south.”
Jay Supervisor and County Board Chairman Randy Douglas said he would like to see work done to resolve drainage concerns in Au Sable Forks.
“We have no drainage on Main Street and it is causing sink holes on Main Street in Au Sable Forks,” Douglas said. “I grew up on Main Street and I have never seen a project done on Main Street in all the years that I have been alive. The businesses there are having serious troubles because the state has not kept up Main Street properly.”
Politi said his concern was less about the job DOT was doing and more at the state level.
“I have a problem when I see the state going out and buying these pieces of land and preserving them for the people, but then the people cannot get here because the roads are so bad,” he said.
County Manager Daniel Palmer asked why there had been such an increase in the number of bridges that had been “red flagged” over the past few years.
“The standard has not been changed. The problem is that we have a bunch of Baby Boomer bridges that now need to be worked on,” Zhou responded. “We need to take care of about eight to 10 bridges a year to keep up with the work, and we are currently doing between two and three.”
Zhou recommended that the supervisor come up with a list of jobs that they feel are a priority in the county and also contact their representation in higher offices of government.
“You need to get the message out to your representatives at the state and federal level that road work is vital to the economy,” he said.
“I think that it is a good idea that this board, through the highway committee, come up with a list of priorities to give to you,” Scozzafava said.