NEW YORK (WKBW) — New York State Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew J. Driscoll sent a letter to the Seneca Nation Sunday on the condition and future of the New York State Thruway that runs through the Seneca Nation territory.
"As you know, the New York State Thruway Authority has for years been seeking permission from the Seneca Nation to undertake this critically important milling and road restoration project," Driscoll said. "Our position is simple: the moment you grant us permission, we will make the necessary repairs -- in fact, we are eager to complete this project and are ready to begin work as soon as tomorrow."
Driscoll continues on to say projects in that area the thruway authority has attempted have been met with a lack of cooperation which has created a safety risk for travelers and Seneca Nation members. He says the thruway authority's focus is ensuring a safe and reliable roadway.
7 Eyewitness News reached out the Seneca Nation for a response to this letter. They said they've made every accommodation for the State to repair roadways that cross its territories, but haven't been able to get the State to come forward to discuss bigger infrastructure issues.
"If the State is finally ready to take its obligation to public safety seriously and come to the table to address the many transportation-related issues that exist on Seneca Territory in a comprehensive way, the Nation remains ready to have that dialogue,” replied the Seneca Nation.
Rep. Tom Reed called out the state and Governor Andrew Cuomo over this rough stretch of I-90 in early August.
Read Driscoll's full letter below:
As you know, the New York State Thruway Authority has for years been seeking permission from the Seneca Nation to undertake this critically important milling and road restoration project.
Our position is simple: the moment you grant us permission, we will make the necessary repairs -- in fact, we are eager to complete this project and are ready to begin work as soon as tomorrow.
To put it mildly, we have been frustrated that multiple attempts to secure this permission - going back to written requests in May 2014 and September 2017, and an attempt to raise this project again in a meeting this past January - were either met with silence or outright rejection by your Nation's leadership.
The Nation's position going back decades has been that permission needs to be granted to perform this work -- an assertion that you have litigated in court and in fact are still currently litigating the most recent suit brought in 2018.
Throughout this process, we have tried to work with the Nation and ensure that when work is needed, permission is granted and the health and safety of state personnel is assured.
Equally frustrating was the prolonged ordeal involving federally mandated bridge inspection work and debris removal on this same 3-mile stretch of the Thruway. A request to perform this work was made in June 2017 and it was formally denied by the Council. In January of this year, I again tried to engage on this issue and other important matters with Nation representatives. Once again, no progress was made. In fact, it wasn't until this past June when we had to take the extraordinary step of asking the FHWA to do this work on the state's behalf as part of an unwieldy and unnecessarily complicated end-around to what is otherwise routine work. While we are pleased this matter was ultimately resolved, the nearly two year timeline it took to accomplish this resolution was unacceptable and it should not be repeated.
The continued lack of cooperation has created a safety risk for travelers along that stretch of the Thruway that affects Nation members and other motorists alike.
Again, our only focus is ensuring a safe and reliable roadway for travelers. If the Seneca Nation is finally ready to begin anew and wishes to act swiftly to move this critically important project forward, we are eager to partner with you.
All you have to do is grant us permission and let us fix this stretch of road -- just like we fix the other 500 miles of the Thruway.
The sooner this permission is granted, the sooner we can get to work. We await your response.
Matthew J. Driscoll
This is the full response by the Seneca Nation:
“For years, the Seneca Nation has made every accommodation for the State to complete routine maintenance on its roadways that cross our territories. There are larger transportation infrastructure needs that need to be addressed in a comprehensive way. We have not been able to get the State to the table for those discussions.
As far back as 2017, the Thruway Authority has canceled and rescheduled meetings with Nation officials to have a comprehensive discussion regarding important transportation issues. The bridge inspection work noted in the Thruway Authority’s letter is, in fact, a perfect example of how the Thruway Authority refuses to cooperate with the Seneca Nation. The Seneca Nation offered to conduct the overdue bridge inspections ourselves, using a certified highway inspection consulting firm. New York State refused to allow the inspection to proceed. It was then at the Seneca Nation’s request that the Federal Highway Authority stepped in to resolve the impasse and conduct the necessary inspections.
If the State is finally ready to take its obligation to public safety seriously and come to the table to address the many transportation-related issues that exist on Seneca Territory in a comprehensive way, the Nation remains ready to have that dialogue.”