Rough ride is from years of neglect

Officials in Erie County have always chosen later for Zoar Valley Road.

In an old TV commercial, an auto repairman posed a question to a car owner: “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” When it comes to maintaining Zoar Valley Road, Erie County officials have for decades opted to deal with it later.

The condition of this road over the past several years would be an embarrassment to Jamaican or Haitian highway ministry officials.

As a public service, taxpayers along this road have resorted annually to filling the bottomless potholes with gravel and marking them in spray paint themselves hoping that the understaffed county patching crew will finally be dispatched.

Travelers driving on the well maintained roads of Cattaraugus County come to a literal rude awakening crossing over the two Zoar Valley bridges when their drive becomes a Third World motoring experience as soon as they — again, quite literally — hit Erie County. I wonder what would happen if the towns of Collins and Concord residents could vote to secede Erie County join Cattaraugus County? I have no doubt which county would win.

This is more than what some think is just an inconvenience to a few residents along a rural stretch of highway. Zoar Valley Road is a vital lifeline to living wage jobs, businesses, farms and emergency services to many families living in the Cattaraugus County towns of Otto and East Otto.

More than 80 years of neglect of this road is graphically symbolized in the crumbling condition of the once proud bridge abutment on Zoar Valley Road bearing a plaque with the year 1935. This was a time when “New Deal” government funds were made available for responsible public work projects.

Today, we have this focus on shrinking the government and its costs, but programs that traditionally have always been publicly funded are now suffering. One wonders if the cost of diverting Cattaraugus Creek that threatens to cut Zoar Valley Road in half across from the Gowanda Rife Club is included in Erie County Legislator John Mills’ $22 million repair figure? (The creek is threatening to do the same on Prospect Street in Gowanda isolating the Indian Hill Community).

Whether it’s renovating a vintage theater, a historic rail bed, or area highways, decades of deferred maintenance is expensive. In the case of the highway infrastructure that binds our society together, it is also a vital government function.

Would a 21st century “New Deal” work to again mobilize the resources to make it happen? It worked for America with FDR.

The question is do we have the leadership today that is willing to put ideology behind and work together at all levels of government to address the vital needs of all Americans?

William Cain is a Gowanda resident.