A number of roads in rural areas in our state do not see much traffic. Despite the low volume of use, towns are required to maintain roads to state specifications even if the road does not lead to a house, camp, or business. This translates into large and often unnecessary expenses for taxpayers. In an effort to save money, many towns have elected to limit their responsibilities for certain roads by passing what is known as a local minimum-maintenance road law. While this option has worked well for many rural areas, recent court challenges indicate that without a statewide “minimum-maintenance” designation codified in law, towns may not have the authority to create minimum-maintenance roads.
Towns that have minimum-maintenance roads in local law specify, for example, that surfaces will be re-graveled “as needed” and mowing will take place once a year. In many cases, towns specify there will be no snow removal on these roads. According to a recent report published by the Tug Hill Commission, the majority of a town’s budget in these rural areas is spent on road maintenance and repairs. Snow removal, for example, is estimated to cost towns about $8,000 per mile. A statewide law would affirm a town’s right to designate a road a minimum-maintenance road, which would ultimately save taxpayers’ money.
Legislation that I co-sponsor would amend the state’s highway law to create new categories of low-volume roads that would allow for minimum-maintenance roads across the state. It defines a minimum-maintenance road as one that has less than 50 vehicles traveling on it per day. Again, many of these roads do not lead to a camp, home, or farm. State law already enables towns to designate residential and seasonal roads, for example, and these come with their own set of requirements including road width and surface material specifications. By defining low-volume roads and creating a minimum-maintenance road designation, there would be fewer regulations with which to comply and less maintenance all around for towns. The designations would also help reduce the town’s liability by making it clear in state law the town’s obligations for that road.
Under the legislation, there would be procedures that towns would have to comply with in order to create a minimum-maintenance road. For example, towns would have to hold a public hearing on the road, or roads, being considered. The school district must also be notified and provided 45 days to respond to the town’s proposal. The designation would also need to be approved by the town’s planning board. All property owners on the road would be notified by certified mail of this consideration prior to the town’s decision. The legislation specifies that minimum-maintenance roads should not be construed as “no maintenance” or “abandonment,” but does enable towns to close roads during certain times of the year if it is determined this is best by the locality.
Having these low-volume road classifications and minimum-maintenance standards as an option in state law for towns would clearly deliver recurring cost savings for property taxpayers. Snow removal is a huge cost for towns, especially in the Tug Hill region where snowfall totals can exceed 20 feet during an average winter. Often, these rarely used roads provide access only to vacant lots, snowmobile trails, or recreational land. Rather than abandoning the road or impeding access, towns should have the option to determine which roads make sense to be designated as low-volume and therefore, provide minimum maintenance. I look forward to working with other state representatives during this upcoming legislative session to strengthen the highway laws on the books and give more towns the option to reduce property taxes.
William (Will) A. Barclay is the Republican representative of the 120th New York Assembly District, which encompasses most of Oswego County, including the cities of Oswego and Fulton, as well as the town of Lysander in Onondaga County and town of Ellisburg in Jefferson County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (315) 598-5185.