FULTON, NY – “Out of sight, out of mind.”
That’s how Fulton Department of Public Works Commissioner Charles Smith III said most people think of the spectrum of work performed by DPW crews across the country.
Though as residents of Fulton we use the bridges, sidewalks, roads, and streetlights every day, we often give little thought to the work and money necessary to maintain them.
For Fulton, that work is top notch when it comes to city bridges.
Despite extremely limited funding, the Fulton DPW has managed to set an unprecedented example as all city bridges have been reconstructed to rehabilitate the structural integrity of each.
Within the last four years, all four bridges in the city were reconstructed without the need to allocate any local funding.
In 2014, a $12 million project to reconstruct the Broadway Bridge went underway. In 2017, the Phillips Street bridge was reconstructed at a total cost of $920,000. In 2018, the Oneida Street bridge was rehabilitated at $1,680,000 and finally, in the same year, the North Sixth Street bridge was completed at a total cost of $1,200,000.
Though the costs to maintain each bridge is a significant investment, DPW Commissioner Smith utilized several grant awards in combination with state and federal funding to keep local shares at a bare minimum, ultimately waiving any out of pocket expense.
“We’ve made a lot of progress in the past few years obtaining grants to make some of these repairs,” Smith said. “It’s been more in the forefront of our mind now. We know we have limited funding in the city of Fulton, so how are we going to progress to make our infrastructure better? So you start exploring every avenue. With grants, it’s a very detail specific, time involved process to do the application. You need a team of engineers and it takes a while, one grant could be 300 detailed questions. It’s extensive and then you go and you’re one of one hundred or more. So it’s almost like winning the lottery,” Smith said.
It is because of the diligence of the Fulton DPW and the commitment to improve the city’s infrastructure with minimal funding that “we have been able to chip away at the city’s deteriorating infrastructure,” Smith said.
Each bridge’s life expectancy after reconstruction is anticipated at 30-35 years, providing DPW officials the opportunity to take a breath of fresh air and allocate funds and efforts in other areas.
In 2019, the focus will be aimed on culvert repair. A $650,000 Bridge NY grant will allow for the reconstruction of the Hannibal Street over Meadow Brook culvert located at Hannibal and West Eleventh streets.
Despite bridges up to standard, roadways continue to be of great concern to Smith.
Due to geographic location, there’s a reasonable explanation as to why the city continues to see deteriorating road conditions. Potholes and cracking infrastructure remain an ongoing battle for the DPW crew year after year.
“We live in a climate that quickly deteriorates roadways and general maintenance such as patching and tack coating does combat the ever increasing need for more permanent repairs. Potholes are created by the expansion and contraction of water entering the ground under the pavement. During the winter, as water seeps into the ground under the road surface, it freezes, accumulating more space. As a result, increased pressure on the road surface causes it to bend and crack, weakening the surface and resulting in potholes. Additionally, they may also be created as the weight of cars and trucks pass over the weak spot in the road,” Smith explained.
The money allocated to fix these ever growing concerns come from state funding through the Consolidated Local Street and Highway Improvement Program (CHIPS.) This program is utilized for paving of roads and Americans with Disability Act (ADA) accessibility which involves handicap-accessible curb ramps and sidewalks at each intersection of a paved road.
The amount needed to tackle the demand of repair, however, is nowhere near enough, Smith said.
Each year, the city receives approximately $350,000 in CHIPS funding from the New York State Department of Transportation.
The cost to repave one mile of road is $230,000. Fulton, specifically, has 55 miles of centerline road.
With current funding, it would take 36 years to repave all roadways throughout the city of Fulton at a total cost of $12,650,000.
For this reason, Smith has set his sights on other funding sources to help alleviate some of the financial responsibility associated with improving the city’s roadways.
“We will begin exploring funding options through the Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and the Federal Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) which revolve around the initiative of Complete Streets. A Complete Street is a roadway planned and designed to consider the safe, convenient access and mobility of all roadway users of all ages and abilities. This includes pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists; it includes children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities,” Smith explained. “Complete Street roadway design features include sidewalks, lane striping, bicycle lanes, paved shoulders suitable for use by bicyclists, signage, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps and traffic calming measures.”
Aside from repairing roadways, the Fulton DPW maintains the job of keeping them clean in all weather conditions, a job that is often taken for granted in Central New York.
With 26 highway workers, families of DPW workers can go days without seeing their loved one as they work around the clock to keep roads safe for city residents.
In 2018, a new salt storage building was constructed to replace the dilapidated previous building. Going through roughly 3200 tons of salt in a season, the need was urgent.
At a cost of $330,000 to construct, this building is not only significantly larger in size to accommodate salt and sand as well as equipment, materials, and supplies but also uses a white canopy roof to reflects and distributes the natural light from the sky to negate the use of electricity during the day and utilizes LED lighting at night.
LED lighting is not a new concept to city officials. In 2018, the city began the transition to LED street lighting.
“We tend to notice when a street light is not working but never put much thought in the cost to continually keep them on,” Smith said. “The first phase of transition involved systematically replacing our highest watt street lighting throughout the City. Due to energy incentives we were able to convert 416 street lights to lower watt LED at a cost of $650.00. The first phase of the project generates an annual savings of $21,000.”
With every decision, DPW Commissioner Smith maintains his commitment to maintain services and make prioritized repairs where necessary as cost effectively as possible.
Beginning his career as a city garbage worker in 1999, Smith has climbed the ladder of success to his role of DPW Commissioner where he has served the city for three years.
He doesn’t work alone, however. A small DPW crew including 26 highway employees, 8 sewer, 8 water employees and 5 clerical employees work together to provide services necessary to sustain the city of Fulton.
“We used to have a lot more employees. I feel like we are still providing as good of a service with the amount of employees we have. We’re more efficient in what we do because of the restraint in man power that we have. They go out of their way to work together and are ever improving on being respectful to the community as a part of their job,” Smith said.