By Holly Crocco
Town and county lawmakers, residents, business owners and others who travel Peekskill Hollow Road in Putnam Valley are frustrated by a stalled road and bridge repair project that has dragged on for almost three years.
“This issue has been a problem for residents of Putnam Valley for a few years,” said Legislator Bill Gouldman, R-Putnam Valley, at the April 18 Physical Services Committee meeting. “The fire department, the ambulance corps, the school district, the business and the residents have been affected by this greatly. Yesterday it was 85 degrees. Today it was 65 degrees. The public sees no work being done over there. And last summer there was no work being done at all.”
The long-awaited construction project to improve the safety of Peekskill Hollow Road from Oscawana Lake Road to Lovers Lane officially began in 2020, when the project was put out to bid. A contractor was hired, and actual construction began in spring 2021.
The project is supposed to include rehabilitation of the two bridges that cross over Peekskill Hollow Creek, alignment of the roadway, widening of the lanes and shoulders, and improved drainage. Also, traffic signs and signals should be upgraded and sidewalks improved and extended.
However, construction has been halted due to a disagreement with the contractor, who stakeholders suspect was hoping to overbill the project and “get extras,” according to Tom Feighery, acting administrator of the Putnam County Highways and Facilities Department.
“There’s no litigation at the moment, but there’s been a lot of posturing of litigation, among those involved in this,” he said. “I don’t think the contractor has been fair. I do not think the contractor has been honest… They were looking to gouge the county. And I mean gouge.”
Feighery also explained that the $13 million project is complicated because it is 80 percent funded through federal grants. “So we’re handcuffed to the original agreement,” he said. “If we change so much as a word under the initial bid that was approved by them, we lose this 80 percent funding.”
The project now seems to be in a “holding pattern,” since the surety is trying to skirt its bonding responsibility after the contractor essentially walked off the job.
“This is probably the most dominant issue I’ve had since I started” leading the highway department in January, said Feighery. “If the surety comes back tomorrow and says, ‘We have another contractor,’ hallelujah – that’s’ the best news we can get.”
Legislator Greg Ellner, R-Carmel, said that when a contractor bids a project, a surety company guarantees to the county that the contractor will complete the project and pay all subcontractors and materials suppliers. When a contractor traditionally does municipal work, once his bonding company is attacked, then he can’t do any other jobs, he said.
“So that’s a fairly clear indication that this contractor is in distress or is planning to go out of business,” said Ellner. “Thus, the scenario which you have eloquently laid out, is the surety company is saying, ‘Hey, we’re on the hook, what can we do to not pay?’ And that puts you in a very difficult and complex situation.”
Putnam Valley Town Supervisor Jackie Annabi said the people who live and work near the bridge at the intersection of Lake Oscawana Road cannot tolerate the noise of vehicles clamoring over the rickety bridge or the unsightly debris polluting the site for much longer. She said her office gets “probably 70 calls a day” from drivers worried about damage to the undersides of their vehicles.
“I understand a surety may bow out and not take our side,” she said. “That’s a problem for everyone. (But) Putnam County is not the victim, it’s Putnam Valley. We’re the victims. We need you guys to stand up for us.”
Pointing out that the county has an Aa2 bond rating – high quality, low risk – she suggested the county simply bond out the work, instead of being handcuffed by the federal funding.
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, D-Philipstown, agreed. “We’ve got a ton of money in reserve, let’s just fix it,” she said.
Putnam Valley Highway Supervisor Shawn Keeler said his office is also inundated with complaints about the stalled project. “My secretaries take 15 to 20 calls a day, (asking) ‘When are you going to fix the bridge?’” he said.
Feighery assured the public that just because no progress is being made at the site, doesn’t mean the county isn’t working on it every day.
“This is an anomaly,” he said. “This shouldn’t have happened.”