BEDFORD, N.Y. - The long-sought repaving of a Katonah area stretch of I-684 could still happen this year, Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick told the annual Katonah Forum last week. But, he essentially cautioned everyone not to bet on it.
Burdick swore off “any breakthrough announcements,” saying any firm statement would wait until state highway officials had publicly declared their intent to resurface the deteriorating highway. “I do remain hopeful that it’s a possibility [the work] will be done this year. But I cannot state with certainty on that.” Town officials should know, he said, before the State Legislature’s term ends next month.
Like supervisors before him, Burdick said, he’s been burned by assurances from the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT) that funding was in place for the project. In the most recent instance, after sharing Albany’s promise with town residents, Burdick learned the money had been diverted instead to another, more-pressing need.
The supervisor made his remarks as one of five panelists at the 13th annual renewal of the Katonah Forum. A free-wheeling convocation of residents and their elected and appointed officials, the forum, sponsored by the Katonah Village Improvement Society, brought the community’s collective concerns to the Katonah Library on Wednesday, May 15.
In the packed Garden Room, a panel of Burdick, Public Works Commissioner Kevin Winn, Police Chief Mel Padilla, Katonah Fire Chief Henry Bergson and retiring Parks and Recreation Commissioner William Heidepriem discussed issues raised by residents for some 90 minutes. The diverse subjects ranged from, including errant hunters arrows to failed septic systems, leaf-blower noise and pond pollution.
Roadway paving, Cherry Street as well as I-684, was a forum hot topic. Bedford Councilman Don Scott, who emceed the gathering, said of I-684, “It hasn’t been paved since 1968.” He recalled that state highway officials “had given excuses [why the resurfacing had not been done] for about 20 years. And after that the excuse became ‘they know they have to rebuild the entire interchange and this is a 30- or 40- or 50-million-dollar job.’ So, they keep using that as the excuse to delay it.”
Burdick, first elected to the Bedford Town Board in 2007, cited more than two decades of failed attempts by the town to pry loose pavement funding. “Supervisor after supervisor, town board after town board has beseeched the state to fix 684,” he said. But for “well over 20 years,” he said, the efforts of elected town officials have gone for naught.
“Two years ago, we were told, ‘The money is here, we’re getting it done this summer.’ But “an emergency came about down county” and the repaving money had to address that issue. “I was the official left with egg on his face,” Burdick said.
In November, the Bedford Town Board stepped up its pressure, summoning regional DOT director Lance McMillan to a work session. Backed by state and county elected officials and others, board members urged McMillan to push state lawmakers for I-684 funding in their fiscal 2020 budget. On April; 1, however, when the state’s $175 billion budget went into effect, no such money was included.
Burdick urged forum attendees to add their constituent voices to politicians’ calls for action now on road repair. “It’s really important for our elected officers...for the governor’s office, for the DOT all to hear not just from me—because it’s sort of like, ‘Here’s Chris Burdick calling again’—“but to hear from you folks.
“I have to tell you,” Burdick stressed, “they keep track of that stuff. How many calls they get. ‘Oh, here’s Bedford calling again.’ It makes a difference, it really does.”
A decision could come in weeks. “We anticipate that we will know before the legislative sessions ends,” Burdick said. The legislature was expected to adjourn by the end of June.
Also expected shortly is a decision on repaving Cherry Street. Responding to residents’ questions, public works chief Winn said, “Cherry is certainly on the short list [for repaving]. I’d say if it’s not done this year it will be done next year.”
Burdick explained the town’s approach to roadway maintenance. “Unlike the state of New York,” he said pointedly, “we try to take care of those [roads] that need attention the most. We do those first.”
The town annually assesses Bedford’s 97 miles of paved roads and systematically ranks them in their order of need for resurfacing, he said. But paving, like many other town expenses, saw funding cut back when the national economy was mired in recession more than a decade ago.
“We didn’t want to see taxpayers having double-digit increases in their taxes, which was compounding their own financial distress because of the recession,” Burdick said of the curtailed outlays to maintain local streets.
“So, it’s taken a number of years to increase the funds that we have [for new asphalt],” Burdick said. Now, “bit by bit,” he continued, the Bedford Town Board has ratcheted up spending on road maintenance.