The Dryden Town Council voted about a year ago to replace the one-lane bridge along Freese Road with a new one-lane bridge, not a two-lane bridge, after a lengthy discourse with community members of the Hamlet of Varna.
The construction project, along with the repairs to the bridge along South George Road, would be funded partly with $3.64 million in state grant money that the town received from the Bridge NY program. It is also expected that the county would reimburse the town for the local share of both projects, though it appears now that it is only willing to cover the full local share of the South George Road bridge project and only a portion of the reimbursement for the Freese Road bridge project because the new bridge will not be built with two lanes.
According to the minutes for the March 18 meeting of the Tompkins County Facilities and Infrastructure Committee, both Mike Lane, County Legislator and chairman of the committee, and Daniel Klein, a committee member, expressed their displeasure with the Town of Dryden’s decision to install a new one-lane bridge, with Lane saying any protest towards the Freese Road bridge project should “be on the reimbursement.”
County Highway Director Jeff Smith said he is in favor of a two-lane bridge being built at the location and that he “will not be recommending the full amount of reimbursement” to the legislature.
County Legislator Martha Robertson reported the news to the town council at its meeting on April 15. Robertson expressed perplexity over the fact that the legislature will consider paying the full local share of the South George Road bridge project, “which is actually coming in at five-and-a-half times what was projected in the original Bridge NY grant, and yet the county is going to pay for that.”
She suggested that the council pass a resolution that explains to the legislature that “the design of Freese Road is now a collaborative venture, that everybody is satisfied with; it’s going to be a new bridge, which is one of the things that the county highway manager wanted,” while also “explaining that then perhaps we can make it clear that this is what the local municipality wants and that the county should support that.”
Councilman Dan Lamb said he would like the resolution to focus on the county’s reimbursement policy for projects like these.
“I think the important principle that we want to convey to the county is that we want a consistent policy for covering the local share of these awards that towns or villages or whomever are applying for through Bridge NY,” Lamb said. “That they can do this process with the confidence of knowing the county will pick up the local share since winning these awards takes the projects off the tip — off the county’s priority list — and allows that money to be spent elsewhere, so we’re saving the county money.”
Lamb said grants like the ones the town received for the bridge projects are a win-win for both the county and the municipality and that the town should not have to worry about whether or not the county plans on covering the local share.
“What’s frustrating … is at what point are we going to know where the county comes in,” he said. “When we settle on a design, we got to wait for a surprise? We can’t design projects that way; we can’t finance projects that way.”
Town Highway Superintendent Rick Young said he has already applied for two more grants through the Bridge NY program to fund two other projects, expecting the county to reimburse the town.
“When I talked to Mr. Smith, he implied to me that the local part would be covered because I didn’t think we had that kind of money for somebody to just go out and start asking for grants if we didn’t have the money to cover the other part,” Young said.
Towards the end of the meeting, Robertson presented the resolution to the council, which was passed by a unanimous vote.