IRVING, NY – Several Two on Your Side viewers have asked us to look into a section of the NYS Thruway which is noticeably different in appearance from what one typically finds along the state's 500-mile long super highway.
Its state of disrepair is severe enough, that the speed limit has been reduced to 45 MPH.
It is only three miles in length, between mile markers 452 and 455.
But quite conspicuously, it is the section of the Thruway which runs entirely — and exclusively — within the bounds of the Seneca Nation's Cattaraugus territory.
The condition of the roadway has declined steadily for several years according to viewers who wonder why it is not being fixed, and when it might be.
Rough Road Toward Answers.
Since May, when we began inquiring about it, getting direct answers on the situation and why it has gone unresolved has been a bumpy ride, with both the Thruway Authority and the Seneca Nation offering not much more than cryptic statements.
Even the offices of NYS Assemblyman David DiPietro and State Senator Chris Jacobs told us were unsuccessful in their attempts to lodge any further information from the Thruway Authority as to precisely what issues were outstanding in order to get the work done, although a spokesperson for Jacobs told us the Senator has written a letter to the Thruway Authority urging them to make repairs.
For its part, The Thruway Authority insisted that it was “continuing to engage with the Seneca Nation to proceed with a contract to begin rehabilitation of the roadway in the Seneca Nation territory," never specifying what particular issues needed to be discussed or why the Seneca needed to be “engaged” about for the highway to be fixed.
The Seneca, until recently, would only state that, “Per normal procedure, the Nation received and reviewed a maintenance request from the New York State Thruway Authority pertaining to the stretch of highway that traverses our sovereign territory. The request was approved by the Seneca Nation Council on May 13", without detailing just what type of work it had approved….something else the Thruway Authority declined to specify.
That changed however, on Thursday, when Seneca Nation of Indians President Todd Gates agreed to speak with WGRZ-TV to offer the Seneca perspective.
Seneca Speak Out.
“We need to have meetings to discuss exactly what the parameters are for the maintenance and repairs and move it forward. And they (the Thruway Authority) won't do that," said Gates. “We had several meetings scheduled with the New York State Thruway and they canceled them.
Meetings scheduled then abruptly canceled sounds similar to what happened with the current dispute between the Nation and New York State regarding casinos.
In that dispute, the Seneca contend that under its current gaming compact it no longer owes the state proceeds from its casinos, a contention with which the state strongly disagrees, which has spiraled the dispute to arbitration.
Gates says he suspects the casino dispute is — if not directly related — at least indirectly related to stalled talks on the Thruway.
“It’s probably the compact,” said Gates. “That’s all I can say. I'm not a mind reader, though, so I've stopped trying to figure out why they do the things they do."
What Is There To Discuss?
The Seneca, according to Gates, view the Thruway as “an illegal right of way through our territory," and he notes that any repairs on the highway (which he insists the Nation would like to see completed) is subject to approval of the Seneca Tribal Council.
Gates says talks are needed to hash out, among other things, provisions of the Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance.
This long-standing agreement with the state provides that a certain number of the workers on a highway job be native, that Seneca Nation monitors oversee construction to look out for Nation interests, and that the Nation be paid 3 percent of contract costs for doing so.
Motorists Caught in the Middle.
Motorists, who might expect that the tolls they pay would provide for regular maintenance of this, and all sections of the Thruway, might have been encouraged recently to see paving work being done in the vicinity of the Cattaraugus territory,
However, the work in the eastbound lanes comes to an abrupt halt where the Seneca boundary begins.
And though the Thruway website indicates, in a list of future projects, that a $30 million dollar contract is due to be let next year to address this section of the Thruway, a spokesperson for the agency cautioned that “It's listed as ‘future’ projects – these move around.”
“If they want to conduct business on our territory they should maintain their road through our territory," said Gates. “We're going to do what we can to work out the agreement for them to maintain the road and be treated fairly about it.”
Thruway Authority Spokesperson Jennifer Givner, after being asked if the agency would like to respond to Gate’s claim that the Thruway Authority is refusing to meet with the Seneca, replied via e-mail that, “We are going to decline to comment.”
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