Outpouring kept road school on course

Reflecting light: The yellow truck of the Town of Knox Highway Department is parked inside the town garage in January. Knox Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury told the town board in June of the Cornell Local Roads Program's possible closure. “It’s really the only thing out there for highway superintendents to learn anything about our job,” Salisbury said at the meeting.

Randall Bates, highway superintendent for the Town of Rensselaerville, sits in the gallery of a town board meeting. In his effort to establish a capital fund for his highway department's replacement costs, Bates said he can use a formula from the Cornell Local Roads Program.

ITHACA, N.Y. — The longtime educational program known as the Highway School, which Cornell University had labeled a low priority and had threatened to shut down last summer, has been re-imagined and is expected to continue thanks to statewide support, according to the director of the program. The Highway School benefits local municipalities in Albany County and throughout the state.

“That program is extremely beneficial and I use it often,” said Randy Bates, Rensselaerville’s highway superintendent, this week, noting he had recently received a letter that the program will remain at Cornell.

Professor Lynne H. Irwin, director of the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Local Roads program, or CLRP, said that credit for the program continuing goes to local citizens and program participants who “questioned authority” and flooded the university with letters supporting the program.

“A very large number of letters was received,” he said. Irwin did not know the exact number, but called it “sufficiently impressive.” Most letters went to the Dean Kathryn J. Boor of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, he said. Others went to the president of the university.

When he was asked to provide the names and addresses of university trustees, Irwin recalled, he said, “‘Whoa! That’s a little overkill.’ Various groups did as they saw fit.”

Organizations, including the Association of Towns of the State of New York and the New York Conference of Mayors, sent letters, as did legislators, Irwin said.

“It was a very broad support for continuing this activity. It had influence,” he said.

Irwin, a professional engineer, is an expert in highway materials and pavement design, and he works with the department of biological and environmental engineering at Cornell. With the five-year cycle of the road school expected to end in September 2014, the university had begun making plans to shut down the program, he said. Irwin’s impending retirement after 40 years was also a factor, he said.

“We’ve overcome some of the major concerns and objections we faced here due to collaboration of the college deans. Life will go on,” Irwin said this week. “Our dean of agriculture and our dean of engineering here came to a joint agreement to provide oversight of the CLRP.

“I see it as a plus to have the engineering college involved,” Irwin continued.

The program is funded by the state’s Department of Transportation, and was established under the Local Technical Assistance Program, or LTAP, of the Federal Highway Administration.

Cornell's original land-grant mission was to “extend the university beyond the classroom,” Irwin said. The Local Roads program has fit that bill since it began in 1938. This year, about 750 people attended the statewide conference, or highway school, held earlier this year.

Knox Highway Superintendent Gary Salisbury traveled to the highway school this year.

“It’s really the only thing out there for highway superintendents to learn anything about our job,” Salisbury said at the June town board meeting in Knox.

Bates, this week, gave an example of a practical application he’ll make from the Cornell program: He wants to start a capital fund for roadwork in Rensselaerville, which doesn’t have one, and the CLRP has a formula for calculating the cost of replacing equipment, he said.

Irwin said this week that Cornell can now submit a proposal to the state’s DOT to offer the program.

“That doesn’t mean we will be picked, but our insight into the needs of the audience” may work in Cornell’s favor, as it has for more than 60 years, he said. “Our long history of providing technical assistance…will render us competitive to the DOT.”

Funding for the program tops out at $600,000, with $100,000 going to the university and the remainder going to the CLRP, Irwin said.

Irwin’s department published its fall newsletter recently, in which Irwin wrote, “Many details remain to be worked out. And, of course, NYSDOT will need to choose our proposal for the next cycle. I am confident that we can work out the necessary details. I greatly appreciate your strong outpouring of support on our behalf. It is terrific to know that you value the LTAP program.”

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