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County bill takes aim at utility road repair

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Nassau County Legislator Steve Rhoads stood at the corner of Merrick Avenue and Smith Street in Merrick on Monday, surrounded by traffic rolling over the two roads, which have been marred by incomplete paving projects. With him were Bellmore-Merrick community leaders who lent their support to a bill of his that would require utility companies to fully restore county roads after they have been dug up for the installation of gas and power lines — a common occurrence across Nassau.

“Nassau County in 2020-21 is going to spend almost $80 million in road resurfacing,” Rhoads, a Republican from Bellmore, said. “That’s taxpayer money that’s going to be invested in the state of our county roads just like Merrick Avenue.”

Merrick Avenue will be resurfaced by the county from Sunrise Highway to the Southern State Parkway later this year, according to Rhoads, who said that work is partly needed because of “extensive work” done by utility companies.

“As you travel from Sunrise Highway to the Southern State Parkway, it’s almost like off-roading,” Rhoads said. Utilities “came in, they did their work, and they put in temporary patches, and those temporary patches are absolutely abysmal.”

The measure, named the Save Our Roads Bill, would hold utilities accountable for restoring any county roads that they worked on. If they failed to make the repairs, the county Department of Public Works could then fix the roads and charge the companies for the repairs, according to the bill.

There would be a 60-day window in which utilities would have to replace temporary road patches with permanent fixes. If the restoration was not made within the time limit, the county could make the repairs and charge the company, Rhoads said.

“Our community is a great community, but people are avoiding driving down some of our roads because of the conditions of the streets,” said Ira Reiter, president of the Merrick Chamber of Commerce. “We just want our roads repaired properly so people don’t avoid them and for everyone to really enjoy Merrick and Bellmore when they’re in town.”

“Now that stores are open and customers are coming to visit us, they’re commenting that when they get off Merrick Avenue, they need a Hummer to come down the street,” said Julie Marchesella, a past president of the Nassau County Council of Chambers of Commerce and owner of Queen of Hearts in Merrick. “We have to keep in mind that many of our businesses were hurt during the pandemic and are just reopening. We find it very important that our community looks great.”

Also joining them were Ali Frankel and Joe Baker, presidents of the Bellmore Civic Association and the South Merrick Community Civic Association, respectively.

“Not only is it a money issue — saving taxpayers money — it’s also an aesthetic issue,” Baker said. “The roads are ripped up and the community doesn’t look as beautiful as it should be looking.”

The bill, which passed unanimously through county committees last week, will come before the full Legislature next Monday.

“It becomes a blight on our local communities — it makes it less desirable for people to live here, less desirable for people to shop here, and it shouldn’t happen,” Rhoads said. “This is about protecting our communities, protecting taxpayer dollars and making sure that we’re doing everything we can to hold those who break our roads responsible for fixing them.”