Highway workers worry about their jobs

NORTH RIVER - Dan McEnaney gripped his square-point shovel and thrust it into a pile of salt, dirt and sand alongside State Rte. 28.

"We have already picked up 2.5 tons of sand in the last couple days," McEnaney said.

McEnaney is a crew foreman for the state Department of Transportation stationed in Warrensburg.

All over the region, municipal crews are now cleaning the area highways and roads. Much of what they scrape up was put down only months before in efforts to provide traction for vehicles traversing through snow and ice.

Once considered a secure job, highway work may now experience cutbacks and layoffs, according to budget proposals advanced by Gov. Paterson.

As they cleaned up roadways this week, state highway workers said they were concerned about their jobs.

"We take care of state Rte. 8 to the Hamilton County line, Rte. 28 from Warrensburg to North River and all the way down to Exit 17 on the Northway," McEnaney said.

But once the cleaning is done, state road crews experience "down time" during the summer months - and this is what worries them.

"So much of the work is contracted out now," road crew foreman Tania Mitsuda said. "All we are good for these days is plowing and shoveling."

Over the last several decades, municipalities have often opted to hire private firms for road work and maintenance.

This doesn't make a lot of sense to Mitsuda and several members of her crew - who expressed concern over impending layoffs.

"Private flaggers get paid about the same as our foremen - a job ends up being more expensive," she said. "We are expecting about 600 layoffs in our zone in the near future."

In Warren County, New York State currently has jurisdiction over 470 miles of highway, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The county maintains 255 miles, according to Warren County Public Works Commissioner Bill Lamy. Sweeping of 155 of these miles is contracted out to local towns, he said.

Hamilton County has 170 miles of state roads and an additional 94 miles of county roads, according to the transportation department.

"It is amazing how much time we spend cleaning up after the contractors after they are done," McEnaney said. "They are no where to be found, but we are always right here to fix it."

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