Our dangerous stretch: A road of ruin

Driving the New York State Thruway, one of the best maintained and designed highways among those that makeup the Interstate Highway System, is both a pleasant and safe experience. The pavement is smooth with wide shoulders that provide a safe place in the event of an emergency stop.

That is until you approach the Seneca Nation Territory. First you see a sign telling you that there is a “rough road for the next five miles.” That’s an understatement if I’ve ever heard one. “Bone jarring” or “vehicle destroying” road ahead would be a better description.

Quickly you notice that your vehicle is now bumping down the road. Then you notice that the wide shoulders have disappeared, replaced by narrow and crumbling shoulders with patches of grass growing through the cracks. Next you see a sign informing you that the speed limit is now 45 miles per hour. That is a prudent speed for conditions but don’t slow down to 45. If you do, you’ll get run over by everyone else going 70 mph.

In the last year I have not seen many State Police clocking speeds with radar in this section. The last state police vehicle I saw was one sitting in the median a few hundred feet north of the Milestrip Road overpass. The trooper was probably just recovering from driving that section of the Thruway.

I drive this section at least twice a week so you can understand why I am happy that U.S. Rep. Tom Reed and County Executive George Borrello are taking notice of the deplorable and unsafe condition of the New York State Thruway where it crosses the Seneca Nation territory.

The condition of this section of the Thruway was first brought home to me over three years ago resulting in my first column on the subject in May 2016. In late March of that year we had driven to visit our daughter and her family in Yonkers. Driving nearly the full distance of the mainline Thruway on that trip we enjoyed a pleasant ride except for the five miles passing over the Seneca Nation.

Then some weeks later on April 15, 2016, our grandson, Alex, was born in Amherst. That day my wife and I drove the Thruway to see him. I noted at that time, Thruway workers were patching the driving lane in both directions but only where vehicle tires would track on the road. If you aimed your vehicle just right you might have a smooth ride but miss those strips of new pavement and you had the usual rough ride. It was the absurd nature of this repaving effort that triggered my first “Thruway” column.

Since that first column I’ve heard several reasons given for why the Thruway has not been rebuilt in that section all having to do with some issue between our governor and the Seneca Nation. I’ve heard that the dispute involves the compact between the parties over sharing gambling revenues. I’ve also heard that it involves fair compensation of the Senecas for the rights they gave the state to build the Thruway across Seneca land, and I’ve also heard that it involves a requirement that a certain percentage of Senecas or Seneca companies be employed in any rebuild of the road.

I don’t care what the reason is, the condition of Thruway should not be used by the state as a way of punishing the Senecas. The real victims in this dispute are the traveling public who drive a road that is becoming more dangerous by the day.

Following the Reed press conference, the governor trotted out Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul who agreed that motorists deserve better and that the issue is being worked on and being addressed at the highest levels. That’s nothing but the usual Albany boiler plate and hardly comforting words for motorists like myself who bump and bounce over this crumbling section of Thruway.

The Seneca Nation responded by calling the State’s actions an act of political revenge “for an issue unrelated to the crumbling condition of the Thruway.” They went on to call the governor’s behavior “misguided and dangerous for the thousands of drivers who place their safety in the state’s hands each day they travel the New York State Thruway.”

Then at a press conference this past Tuesday in Wilson the governor stated that the reason he will not authorize repairs on this section is because it might give the Senecas an excuse not to pay the $255 million in casino revenue it owes the state and local governments. How the governor makes this connection between Thruway repairs and the Senecas’ refusal to share casino revenue I don’t understand. Does he think they will refuse “more” to share the revenue they have continually refused to pay?

His actions do not hurt the Senecas in anyway, but could hurt innocent drivers. His reasoning in this issue confirms what I’ve always suspected about him; his bulb is perhaps the dimmest among dim bulbs on the Albany marquee.

It’s time that our governor grows up, calls a halt to this strange test of wills and gives the Thruway Authority the go ahead to rebuild this section of the highway before someone gets hurt.

Thomas Kirkpatrick Sr. is a Silver Creek resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com