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Support for “low-volume” roads law grows louder

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The state Senate passed a bill that would create a new category for county roads, aiming to reduce maintenance burdens on local highway departments.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, would designate roads where less than 400 vehicles travel daily as “low-volume.” Less maintenance is required for 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 and 90 percent of the average town budget, Mr. Bartow said.

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

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

Patrick F. Mahar, highway superintendent for the town of Denmark, said the change would ease the burden on his department. There are 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 wear and tear on the surface as well as damage to the roadbed itself, Mr. Mahar said.

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

“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,” said Timothy J. Hens, president of the New York State County Highway Superintendents Association and superintendent of the Genesee County Highway Department, in an email.

The bill is supported by governmental associations and environmental groups, Mr. Bartow said. 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 met resistance from Assemblyman David F. Gantt, D-Rochester, chairman of the Transportation Committee, Mr. Bartow said.

Mr. Gantt has yet to convey his concerns about the bill, Mr. Bartow said.

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

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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