February 27, 2003

Budget Cuts Create Potholes on Roads

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You may have noticed driving around Ithaca can be a bit bumpy, to say the least.

Severe winter weather and heavy traffic, coupled with budget cuts and layoffs have created many potholes on Ithaca roads.

“We’ve got a bumper crop this year,” said Ray Benjamin, the supervisor of streets in Ithaca. “We’ve put out over 38 metric tons of coal patch covering potholes this year.”

Benjamin estimated that about twice as much coal patch has been used this year than was used last year.

Benjamin noted that the freeze and thaw cycles have caused many already patched potholes to resurface. “On Green Street, some places have been unraveling. The top layer is coming loose. The only way to fix it would be to mill it down and then have the section repaved,” he said.

According to Benjamin, there is an insufficient amount of manpower and funding. The bridge crew, who oversaw the maintenance of bridges in the area was eliminated. This maintenance is now the responsibility of Streets and Facilities now.

“We don’t have enough coverage,” Benjamin said. “My workforce is getting older and older, and the work is getting harder. There’s fewer people doing the same amount of work, and when you get injures, it takes longer for them to get back. We haven’t had the time and the money to do it. My guys get hurt, and I don’t have anyone to cover for them.”

Benjamin noted that various other activities, such as hauling salt, and barricading off unsafe areas and controlling flooding all detract staff from driving and covering up potholes.

“Currently there’s no plan to hire new employees,” said City Controller Stephen Thayer.

“Over time, we’re hopeful that revenue base will allow us to fulfill those positions,” he added.

The primary reason for the shortage of staff is the funds being cut.

“We’ve been cutting back on our resources since 1991, almost every year … we have to take employees’ raises out of our operating budgets,” Benjamin said.

“[Capital projects are the way] we’re funding the operating funds for Streets and Facilities, we’ve been doing it since 1991,” Thayer said. “It’s funded by bonds, so it’s a loan, but we have to pay debt interest and principal on the projects.”

Thayer said that capital projects have bee used on a number of projects. “It’s acceptable, but not the preferred method,” Thayer added. The reason that this mode of funding is used is that the city tax base cannot afford to pay the money at the time.

The streets owned by Cornell tend to be in better condition. Cornell actually does not own all roads on campus; University Ave. is owned by the city. Jim Gibbs, Maintenance Management, attributes the condition of Cornell’s roads to the University’s policy of repaving roads instead of covering potholes.

“We’ve tried to put money into our roads so that we don’t have to repair potholes,” Gibbs said. “Doing pothole repair is not a cost effective way of maintaining asphalt. We’d much rather get ahead of it before you have potholes.”

Gibbs noted that this policy is expensive, but he feels that it is the most cost-effective strategy.

“When we notice the asphalt breaking up in a very specific area, we’ll get up in there and dig it out and actually do a real patch, don’t let it become a pothole, because once that happens, it’s a hazard.”

At Cornell, the roads are repaved in the summertime, particularly during nighttime. This is comparatively easier for the University, as generally there is not as much traffic on the roads during the summer as there is in the city.

Archived article by David Hillis