Reporter Editorial: Key to the highway

Islanders owe debts of gratitude to Town Engineer John Cronin, the Engineering Department’s intern Andrei Oraseanu, the current Town Board and its predecessor for making safe, reliable roads a priority.

A week ago, Mr. Oraseanu presented the board with a report that showed the Island’s 55 miles of road to be, overall, in good shape.

Data for the report were collected with help from the Cornell Local Roads Program, something Mr. Cronin initiated a few years ago. The main function of the Cornell program is to store and analyze data and generate reports to assist municipal officials in making cost-effective decisions. It evaluates the condition of roads and the rate of continuing damage, and helps prioritize maintenance strategies.

Boiled down to its essence, Mr. Oraseanu’s research revealed that the Island’s roads have improved over the past five years. This is due to the past and current boards releasing funds to meet a critical situation, decisions that didn’t come easy. Some past members asserted that the roads were fine, just fine, which translated as we don’t want to spend money to meet an essential function of government. But they were outgunned by research and outvoted when it came time to give a green light.

The presentation last week included a report from The American Society of Civil Engineers, which determined, in a report it issued in 2015, that a third of New York State’s roads are what is characterized as “poor.” The town’s Engineering Department, on the basis of the roads being now at the “higher end of good,” determined that the Island has better roads, on average, than the rest of New York State.

There are surveys, and then there are surveys, and after the meeting, Mr. Cronin noted that Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report ranked New York State 45th in the nation for highway conditions. (Reason Foundation is a libertarian, public policy think tank.)

We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the persistence and strategies of former highway superintendent Jay Card Jr. when he made the case to the board to spend money for roadwork. Using the Cornell Local Roads Program and research documented by Mr. Cronin, Mr. Card pointed out that if money were not spent now to fix deteriorating roads, it would cost many times more in the future.

Letting roads degrade to the point where there is no use in repairing them, since they have to be made over completely, was a fool’s errand. Mr. Card was a persuasive advocate, and most members of the board joined him in making his case.

Highway Superintendent Brian Sherman has ably picked up the standard Mr. Card left, by working hard to keep the roads that Shelter Island owns in the best shape possible.

Now, if only New York State would do something it has long promised — provide safety improvements for Route 114.