April 26, 2005

C.U., City Trade Pot-Hole Shots

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Afghans accustomed to traversing the newly cemented Kabul-Kandahar Highway might gasp at the condition of University Ave., one of a few Cornell roads riddled with gaping potholes and dangerous defects.

The poor conditions will likely persist, as University and City of Ithaca officials remain embroiled in a conflict over who ought to shoulder the responsibility for the deteriorating streets.

“It’s not only unsafe, it’s a smear on the University,” said Dennis Osika, the head of Cornell’s Grounds Department. “I’ve raised heck about it for years … but it’s not our property.”

Not so, said Ray Benjamin, supervisor of streets for the City of Ithaca. While the portion of University Ave. leading up to the Johnson Art Museum is the City’s responsibility, the section above the Art Museum leading up to Thurston Ave. belongs, according to Benjamin, to the University.

“The confusion is that no one wants to fix it,” said Benjamin. He said that the rules were “laid out ages ago … when they built the University, they had their own road system.”

Benjamin said his claims are validated in record books, where “all our roads are deeded.”

To that, Osika responded, “Just the opposite.” Officials from Ithaca and from the University have been involved in discussions concerning the status of the roads, though a resolution has yet to be reached.

“I know that Cornell has been in discussions with the town on it, but no one’s come to any resolution on that,” said Buck Donahue, construction manager at Cornell. Osika added that at one point there was “almost” an agreement, but that that deal fell through “for some reason or another.” Student response to the failing road system has been categorically disapproving.

“Every time I drive on University Ave., I feel like I’m making my way through a mine field,” said Josh Gerber ’08. Many other students said they incurred damages to their cars, not to mention frequent spillages of coffee (a phenomenon experienced “numerous times” by Stephanie Katz ’08.)

There are also indications that without treatment, the roads might fall into new levels of disrepair. Osika said that an engineer surveyed the area last year, and reported that the “gutter and the road are gradually migrating toward the gorge.” The result, he said, could be a major cave-in.

Even roads with uncontested ownership are unlikely to see improvements within the year. Thurston Ave., unambiguously the responsibility of the City of Ithaca, will only receive some patching-up this year, according to Benjamin. He said that the City would wait until construction has been completed on a nearby bridge before any efforts are undertaken to repair major potholes.

In the mean time, “it’s a real embarrassment, and an inconvenience to all those who use it,” said Osika.

Archived article by Rob Fishman
Sun Staff Writer