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Support for “low-volume” roads law grows louder

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The state Senate has passed a bill that would create a new category for county roads, with the aim of reducing maintenance burdens on local highway departments.

The bill, which was sponsored by state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, would designate roads where less than 400 vehicles travel daily as “low volume” roads. Less maintenance would be required on these roads, according to Sen. Griffo’s office.

The bill has support among local governments but faces an uncertain future in the Assembly, where it has repeatedly failed to move out of the Transportation Committee.

“This is legislation that we have been championing for a decade,” said John K. Bartow Jr., executive director of the state’s Tug Hill Commission. “What we have here is a network of very rural dirt roads that provide critical access to forest land, agricultural property and recreational areas.”

Highway maintenance consumes between 60-90 percent of the average town budget, Mr. Bartow said.

And while towns want to keeps those rural roads, some of which see fewer than 10 trips per day, they need to keep them at standards much lower than typical national or state standard, according to Mr. Bartow.

The new “low-volume” designation would allow the municipalities to keep the roads without a large burden on taxpayers, Mr. Bartow said.

Patrick F. Mahar, the highway superintendent for the town of Denmark, said that the change would help ease the burden on his department. He has two “low-volume” roads in his jurisdiction, he said.

Under the current system, the roads must be cleared by April 1. Plowing the roads, which are gravel, can result in additional wear and tear on the surface, as well as damage to the roadbed itself, according to Mr. Mahar.

It would be far better to wait until the snow melts before performing maintenance on the road, Mr. Mahar said.

“It’s better for the life of the road,” he said.

Timothy J. Hens is president of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association and Superintendent of the Genesee County Highway Department.

“The New York County Highway Superintendent’s Association supports any effort to give Counties and Towns the flexibility to make local decisions on limited use or low volume roads,” Mr. Hens said in an emailed statement.

The bill has met with approval with governmental associations and environmental groups, according to Mr. Bartow. But it has never come to a vote on the floor of the Assembly.

“For the last six to seven years it’s passed the Senate but it’s never ever been reported out of committee,” Mr. Bartow said.

The bill has met resistance from Assemblyman David F. Gantt, D-Rochester, chairman of the Transportation Committee, according to Mr. Bartow.

Mr. Gantt has not provided specific information regarding his concerns about the bill, Mr. Bartow said.

Assemblyman Kenneth D. Blankenbush, R-Black River, said that he is “cautiously optimistic” that the bill could make it to a vote this year because of the bipartisan support he said it has.

Both Mr. Bartow and Mr. Blankenbush said that the bill is in line with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s push to lower property taxes throughout the state.

“I think the governor would sign it if it got to him,” Mr. Blankenbush said.

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