Slush fund: NYS doles out extra cash to fix weather-battered roads

Upstate New York is notorious for its rough winters. But even for those inured to feet of snow and frozen mountain passes, the winter of 2013-14 was a brutal one, marked by long stretches of subzero temps and winter weather that lasted well into April. 

Amid the storm clouds was a silver lining: Towns and villages are getting a little bit of extra cash from the state to fix up roads that took a beating during this year's unusually harsh winter. This spring, the New York state budget included a one-time $40 million fund for winter weather recovery, in addition to $438 million in the state's regular highway budget.

The announcement of the "Pothole Dollars," as the Times Union dubbed the state's Extreme Weather Recovery Fund, was hailed by many in local government as a godsend. Assemblyman Pete Lopez, whose 102nd District covers a large rural area in the northern Catskills and Capital Region, praised the passage of the special fund in a recent press release: 

"This winter has been one of the harshest that we have seen in a while and has taken a toll on New York’s highway infrastructure,” said Assemblyman Lopez. “My office has received many reports that the condition of our local roads and bridges are getting worse. We are stepping up to help local governments make essential repairs so our roads and bridges are maintained and kept safe.”

For Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, who represents Sullivan and Orange counties in the 100th District, it was personal:

“Just today, I got a flat tire after hitting a pot hole. This funding is critical to providing relief to struggling municipalities and frustrated motorists.”

The $40 million has been divided up among counties, cities, towns and villages according to an existing state highway funding formula, which takes into account how many miles of road each locale is responsible for, and how busy the roads are. For some towns that span large territories in the rural Catskills, those miles add up. 

John Biruk, highway superintendent for the Delaware County town of Middletown, is responsible for just over 128 miles of town road. Because of the 2014 winter weather fund, his department will be getting an extra $32,069.65 for repairs this year.

To put that number in perspective: Biruk says that's enough to seal two miles of road, or to strip one mile of road down to bare dirt and re-pave it. In the context of the department's annual budget -- about $2 million -- it's a drop in the proverbial bucket.

"It's not much. But it helps, don't get me wrong," Biruk said. "It'll go to good use, believe me." 

Biruk said that Middletown's roads fared better during the past winter than he had expected, partly owing to the "cold mix" paving methods the highway department uses.

"Our roads did way better than the state and county roads in our town; they held up really well. Knock on wood," he said. "Thank God, even our dirt roads weathered pretty well."

Biruk said the state funding will help offset rising costs of fuel and stone, and also will help the department address some bank slide issues along local roadways.

By the numbers

Total funding for county, town and village highway departments, by county:

Delaware County: $609,593.26
Greene County: $353,195.93
Schoharie County: $383,595.28
Sullivan County: $635,593.79
Ulster County: $686,393.05

For a full list of Extreme Weather Recovery funds distributed to all New York State counties, cities, towns and villages, see this statewide list (PDF document).