On Friday, December 8, Governor Hochul signed bill number A6412/S6249 into law, which was sponsored by Senator Mark Walczyk and Minority Leader Will Barclay. The law amends highway law and vehicle and traffic law, in relation to establishing minimum maintenance roads in designated towns, in this case Lorraine, Jefferson County. It codifies into state law the same process that towns across NYS have been following, under their home rule authority, for decades to designate low volume roads and minimum maintenance roads. The law goes into effect 120 days after it was signed, and expires after eight years. The signed bill and the Governor’s approval memo can be accessed on the commission’s website, tughill.org/roads/. This new law is the result of decades of efforts by towns, councils of governments, partner organizations, and state legislators.
The Governor’s support memo states “This bill will authorize a process by which the Town of Lorraine, in Jefferson County, may designate roads with low volumes of traffic as “minimum maintenance roads,” not requiring snow and ice removal or other maintenance. I support the goals of this legislation, which would allow the Town of Lorraine to grant this designation to certain roads, helping farmland and forestland, encourage outdoor winter recreation, and help localities manage road maintenance budgets. However, changes to the legislation are necessary to make clear that this authorization for the Town of Lorraine shall not be read to limit, diminish or in any other way, impact the powers of any other locality.”
Lorraine is 39 square miles (24,960 acres) in size. In 2020, the total population of the town was 924, which equates to 23.7 people per square mile. The total town road mileage is approximately 36.4 miles, with approximately 15 miles of that designated as minimum maintenance roads. Twenty percent of the land (5,145 acres) in Lorraine is designated New York State Forest, and of the town’s minimum maintenance road mileage, 6.5 miles of it has state land on one or both sides of the road. In 2020, the town’s budget was approximately $1.4 million, and 75% of that was spent on highway management.
Several town roads in Lorraine provide critical access to the 9,233-acre Winona State Forest: Sharp, Marsh, Brown, Kate Hall, Bishop, Wart, Dodge and Hessel. These roads are unpaved, providing access to the area by motor vehicle in the summer, and access to the area via skis, snowmobiles, dog sleds, snowshoes and fat bikes in the winter.