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Reed Puts Pressure On Albany To Repair I-90

In a press conference on Thursday at the Interstate 90 overpass on Milestrip Road, Congressman Tom Reed and Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello addressed the dangerous road conditions of the portion of the Thruway that runs through the Seneca Nation of Indians. Photo by Mary Heyl

IRVING — “I think the condition speaks for itself,” said Congressman Tom Reed of the portion of Interstate 90 that runs through the Seneca Nation of Indians. “It goes from well-maintained, safe-traveling road top, and then all of a sudden at the nation boundaries, that’s when the road falls into disrepair.”

In a press conference on Thursday afternoon at the I-90 overpass on Milestrip Road, Reed and Chautauqua County Executive George Borrello discussed the “deplorable” conditions of the New York State Thruway, which they believe New York state alone is responsible for repairing.

Reed shared a “formal letter of defect” that he has sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao. The letter references New York State Highway Law statute 53, which holds the state responsible for maintaining roads around the Seneca Nation, “and also holds New York state accountable for gross negligence of roads running through Seneca Nation land.”

In his letter, Reed explained that “a staggering number of potholes are evident, causing not only an unpleasant jarring sensation … but also causes drivers to perform dangerous vehicular maneuvers to avoid increasingly large defects in the road.” Reed went on to describe the large potholes, which create standing water and hydroplaning in warmer months, as well as black ice during the winter months. He then states that he holds the state liable for any and all injury, loss of life, and/or damage or total loss of personal property resulting from these road conditions.

“This is a state responsibility; it has federal resources dedicated to it,” Reed said in the press conference. “… It’s the powers that be in Albany that have decided to play politics rather than release those monies into the infrastructure.”

During the press conference, Reed acknowledged a long-standing dispute between the Seneca Nation and the state, although he could not comment specifically about the issues. “In my personal opinion, I can only guess (what the dispute is), because I’ve never heard it first hand,” he said. Reed went on to compare I-90 to what he feels is a similar situation in New Jersey, where the George Washington Bridge was suspected to be closed for political reasons and resulted in federal investigations of multiple state officials.

“I believe that a very similar situation exists here, where you’ve got the governor’s office using the safety of the public as a bargaining chip to try to put pressure on the Nation in order to resolve those other disputes that they have,” Reed said. “That is wrong, and this is why I stand here and loudly say, ‘Enough.’ Set aside petty political differences and do what’s right. We all agree: Keeping the traveling public safe is one of our top priorities.”

In a conversation with the OBSERVER following the press conference, Borrello noted that the situation hits very close to home. “I live a couple miles away from here and myself, friends, family and constituents all travel this road every day, and it is a hazard,” he said. “God forbid someone actually loses their life as the conditions continue to deteriorate.”

Although Borrello could not comment on exactly how long it has been since the state repaved that portion of I-90, he estimated that it has been over three years since it was milled and paved. “The Thruway is a heavily traveled road; it’s constantly being re-done,” he told the OBSERVER. “To go more than a couple years without some kind of resurfacing is unusual.”

Borrello added that he feels this is another example of Cuomo prioritizing politics over people. “Regardless of what the dispute is between the Seneca Nation and the governor’s office, this is a safety issue, and it needs to be addressed,” he said. “…The Seneca Nation has been good partners with Chautauqua County and good partners with our local communities. There’s no reason why this can’t be resolved. It’s in the best interest of everyone.”

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