Local roads have shrunk in new study
ANCRAM–Less is more sometimes, but not when it comes to money and the length of a road.
At least three towns, the City of Hudson and the county have been told that their local roads are shorter now than they were last year and that could mean a loss of funding for the municipalities even though the roads in question haven’t actually changed at all.
The New York State Department of Transportation must maintain an inventory of all 115,000 miles of public roadways in the state. In addition to meeting state and federal reporting requirements, the agency must also annually submit public road information including mileage to the Federal Highway Administration.
A new mandate from the feds calls for the all public road inventory information to be submitted in “geospatial format such as Geographic Information System (GIS). This GIS Network and all the road inventory information must match,” according to a DOT statement about the State GIS Public Roads Network Project issued August 15, 2015.
To complete the GIS Network requirement, DOT has been using the Local Highway Inventory (LHI) to identify local roads in each municipality. The process involves adjusting existing LHI information “to match actual roadway conditions based on very detailed and accurate aerial photography and verifying jurisdiction through tax maps and other documentation. Each individual local road (over 160,000 of them) is reviewed in the LHI and in GIS format,” the statement says.
Ancram Highway Superintendent Jim Miller told The Columbia Paper that annually the state sends each municipality a copy of the LHI it has on file for it and asks the person in charge of roads to make sure the listings are correct.
But this year, Mr. Miller found that instead of the 58 miles of roads he thought Ancram had, the state “in its infinite wisdom” has decided there are really 3.5 fewer miles.
Mr. Miller brought the matter up at the November 17 Town Board meeting.
The state has shortened 40 Ancram roads by between .01 and .23 miles each based on its GIS review, Mr. Miller told the board. At least one dead end road and parts of other roads just disappeared amounting to 2.07 miles less combined with other inaccuracies in the LHI, such as abandoned roads that were never removed and one road listed twice under different names, the net loss of inventory was 3.5 miles. Based on existing highway state aid at $2,930/mile, Mr. Miller figured the town is in line to lose about $10,000.
Notably, the state maintains that elevation changes have virtually no impact on road length at a precision level of 0.01 miles (52.8 feet).
In an effort to correct inaccuracies and get some of the road inventory back, Mr. Miller asked the board to pass a resolution, as prescribed by the state, that the town “has and will continue to maintain as public roads .2 miles of Crest Lane Extension and .08 miles of Bash Road, and it is further resolved that the Town of Ancram will maintain as a public road an additional .28 miles of Roche Lane.” The measurements in the resolution are the town’s not the state’s.
Copake Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory said by phone this week that his road inventory was reduced by 5.83 total miles. “They took off Catamount because they thought it was a private road and they removed High Meadow Road and included it as part of Sky Farm Road for a decrease of 1.1 miles.”
But he was not alarmed. “We will get them back without too much trouble,” said Mr. Gregory, noting that the town will have to pass resolutions then submit them to the state. “It’s fixable.”
Mr. Gregory likened the road network update to the revaluation process saying, “they make it vague on purpose.”
With regard to state highway funding such as Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPs) and PAVE NY, Mr. Gregory said, “What’s in the pot is what’s in it” it’s how its distributed that may change.
Canaan Highway Superintendent Bernie Meyers, who oversaw the removal of 20-inches of heavy wet snow in connection with the November 22 storm, said GIS measurement is “a thing of the future.”
In his town, 2.6 miles of road have been cut from his 50.2 mile total but he, like Mr. Gregory, is optimistic about getting some of it back. He said the futuristic system for some reason only measured one side of the “Y” in some roads and measured cul de sacs as a straight line instead of accounting for the circle at the end.
When all is said and done, Mr. Meyer, who serves as vice president of the NYS Association of Highway Superintendents, said the new measuring system will create a more accurate inventory compared to old methods which were “helter skelter” and listed the beginning and end of road from “a driveway to a tree.” The new inventory will be valuable in resolving land disputes and for planning and zoning purposes, he said, noting local town roads make up 87% of the road system in the state.
Columbia County Superintendent of Highways Bernie Kelleher said by phone this week that he is still reviewing the information the DOT sent him. He said the state cut the inventory of county-owned roads by 1.8 miles but his department is checking every inch of those 265 miles for discrepancies. He said the county receives $1.8 million annually in CHIPs money and an added $419,460 in PAVE NY, a five-year program.
According to his listing of the DOT’s proposed mileage changes, the county as a whole will lose 48 miles for a decrease of 3.91%. He said the City of Hudson faces the largest cut at 7 miles or 23%.
Mr. Kelleher said if there are funding cuts they won’t happen right away.
The state is in the midst of its comprehensive review of roads and their lengths. This DOT project was initiated a few years ago and “outreach” has been completed for Regions 1 through 7. “Local highway officials will be provided an opportunity to review the results of the efforts and provide input,” according to the DOT letter signed by Michael K. Fay, director Highway Services Bureau, that accompanied each municipality’s revised inventory.
Reached by phone this week, Mr. Fay said the new GIS road inventory is a work in progress and Region 8 municipalities (Columbia, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Ulster and Westchester counties) can still challenge the findings listed.
He said road miles are only part of the distribution formula the state uses to determine highway funding, which also includes motor vehicle registrations and the amount of total funding made available in the budget determined by the legislature.
Since 1982 when a State Highway Law was enacted establishing the consolidated local highway assistance program, DOT has reviewed road inventories piecemeal each year but there has never been a comprehensive review like this one.
DOT conducted two meetings for highway officials about the project in November. Those who could not attend may address questions to Mr. Fay at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 518 457-1965. The target date for completion of the project is mid-2017.
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