October 22, 2021

Cortland’s highway aid in limbo amid state budget delay

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

The curb-cuts and road surface on West Court Street in Cortland show signs of disrepair Tuesday. This section of the road is scheduled for repairs using state highway aid, but final funding is unknown because of the state budget delay.

The state’s failure to pass a budget last weekend has left Cortland County’s highway departments in a lurch because they don’t know how much state reimbursement to expect on local road projects they have planned for the year.

The 2018 budget extender package, passed in lieu of a state budget, continues the state’s funding for the Consolidated Highway Improvement Program and the Marchiselli program at last year’s level of $477.8 million. The extender also continues $100 million in highway aid through the PAVE NY program, which is a four-year program that injects money into local infrastructure.

Both programs help municipal highway departments repair the streets and roads residents use most often.

But highway departments are still awaiting a letter from the state telling them exactly how much the extender package means they can use, said Preble Highway Superintendent Jeff Griswold. Formulas vary; some benefiting towns like his more, some less.

The state budget is expected to be approved soon.

Cortland Public Works Superintendent Chris Bistocchi said the city’s level of CHIPS funds last year was $282,619. He hopes to receive the same amount this year — and more would be great, but he does not have high hopes for that.

Bistocchi plans to discuss with the Common Council how to proceed with projects without an assured amount of CHIPS funding.

“If push comes to shove, come May I’m not going to be able to wait around, I’ll probably do the project and hopefully funding will be in place by June or July,” he said.

The city is already committed to some major projects, like repaving and re-curbing West Court Street between Haskell Place and Graham Avenue and also along Graham Avenue.

The project will cost about $270,000 and is slated to begin in the end of May. Bistocchi said it will address water drainage issues and storm sewer problems and use most of the CHIPS funding he his likely to get.

“We’ve got to fix that situation with the curbing and drains,” he said. “It’s quite an undertaking up there.”

Additional CHIPS-funded projects include a simple overlay of the existing asphalt on North Church Street, part of Route 11 in the city.

Once Bistocchi has committed to a project he is sure the CHIPS funding will come through, even if it is not until later in the year.

“They will reimburse me once the budget is passed, but who knows when that will be,” he said.

In Preble, Griswold is expecting to operate until June 1 at last year’s level of receiving about $61,000 in CHIPS funding. If the state approves adding $65 million to the fund, as is being considered, Griswold said this could mean between an extra $13,000 to $20,000 for Preble.

But even that does not go very far, he said. “If you were paving, an extra $15,000 might, depending on width and thickness, get you another quarter of a mile,” he said. “So it’s not like everybody gets their street paved. Instead of filling potholes along one little stretch, we’ll pave it.”

Cortland County Highway Superintendent Phil Krey said with the budget extension, the county will receive about $1.6 million in CHIPS funding and about $372,000 in PAVE NY money.

He heard an additional $65 million is proposed to be added to CHIPS funding, which would just allow the county to extend its road rehabilitation plan. That would translate to the county getting an extra $242,000, Krey said, and it would mean additional work could be done on roads that have not yet been identified.

But even at last year’s levels, the county plans to continue with about 14 miles of road rehabilitation work, including Cranes Mills Road, East River Road, Freetown Crossing Road, Linklaen Road and Song Mountain Road.

“We will be OK,” Krey said. “Since we had the continuation of last year’s budget, that money is available now. We don’t have to wait for a new budget to get passed.”

However, he still will wait for confirmation from the state Department of Transportation that the program is being continued at last year’s level before spending the money.

“The DOT puts out a letter to municipalities saying yes, this money has been approved,” Krey said. “And … usually we get it in late spring.”