County, Town Battling Each Other In Road Funding

TOWN OF CLARENCE – A county legislator calls it "as bad as any road" in Erie County. The people who live there say it's a "disaster." The Town of Clarence Supervisor refers to it as an "unbelievable mess."

The terms vary, but just about everybody agrees: Conner Road, which spans about eight tenths of a mile just east of Transit Road, must be fixed. Portions of the road are nearly impassable due to the decay of the pavement, forcing some drivers to swerve into the opposite lane momentarily to avoid ruining their tires. Potholes are everywhere. The northern edge of the road floods often, resulting in dramatic pictures like these.

"It's a treacherous road," said R.J. Connelly, who has lived on Conner Road for 25 years. "It's been neglected."

The neighborhood has formed an informal group dubbed the "Conner Road Crusaders," and their collection of documents show they first contacted former Erie County legislator and current state representative Michael Ranzenhofer in August of 2003. More than a decade later, the county still has not reconstructed Conner Road.

"I think the county's ignored us completely," Connelly said. "It's a county road. It's their responsibility."

But it would cost several million dollars to repair even this small stretch of road, and although Erie County owns it, it will not commit to covering the entire cost of reconstruction. County Executive Mark Poloncarz has offered to pitch in funding for at least a portion of the project on the Conner Road site, but only under the condition that the Town of Clarence finish the project and then maintain ownership of it. According to the county's list of highway projects for 2014, Erie County would cover "drainage only— contingent on Town taking ownership and completing reconstruction of the road."

A spokesperson for Poloncarz said the county would be taking on a "significant" amount of the work under these circumstances, but Town of Clarence Supervisor David Hartzell said his municipality simply can't afford to cover the costs of any reconstruction. According to Hartzell, a full reconstruction would cost $2 million to $3 million, and even paying for part of that project would not fit in Clarence's $21 million overall budget.

Hartzell has no issue eventually taking over maintenance and ownership of Conner Road, though.

"I think the Town Board, if [the county] did a complete reconstruction, would probably agree to take the road over," Hartzell said.

Neither Poloncarz nor Erie County legislator Ed Rath seem interested in that proposal.

"We have to work out a compromise between Erie County and the Town of Clarence," Rath said. "We need to have support and contribution from the Town of Clarence, as well as from Erie County, and I want to work some sort of an agreement to get road work underway this year."

Rath called the road a "major public safety threat." Although only 1,000 to 1,200 drivers pass through Conner Road on an average day, school busses and emergency vehicles common use it.

He wouldn't say what percentage the Town of Clarence should cover in the reconstruction cost, but he did say it should "equally share" the financial responsibility with Erie County.

No matter who pays for it, the people who live here say they just need somebody to fork over some dollars.

"I think the road needs to be redone properly, and that doesn't just mean putting a ribbon of blacktop over it," Connelly said. "It's gotta be completely redone."


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