After five years of disagreements over New York State’s responsibility to repair a deteriorated three-mile stretch of thruway running through the Seneca Nation’s Cattaraugus Territory, urgent repairs have begun.
“New York state, not the Seneca Nation, receives toll revenue from everyone who travels this state roadway across our territory,” Seneca Nation President Rickey Armstrong, Sr. said. “The Seneca Nation wants to see these repairs completed.”
Thruway Authority Executive Director Matthew Driscoll said that the Thruway Authority intends to stabilize and sustain the roadways by winter, when Lake Erie winds and snow can make even newly paved roads treacherous.
The section of Interstate 90 near Exit 58 crumbled amid conflict between the state and Tribe, but the parties finally came to the drawing table. “After multiple requests, the Seneca Nation was finally able to engage the New York State Thruway Authority in direct communication over the last several days regarding the deplorable condition of this stretch of Thruway,” Armstrong said.
Thousands of motorists travel the thruway through Cattaraugus Territory every day, and the highway is a critical route for commercial traffic.
“Fixing the road is the right thing to do for the safety of the traveling public,” U.S. Rep. Tom Reed said. “We were happy to lead the public outcry over the road conditions for the hardworking people we care about and represent, and we will continue to be your voice in both Albany and Washington, D.C.”
The recent agreement is like an olive branch in a Tribal-state relationship long fraught with conflict — largely stemming from violation of the Seneca Nation’s sovereignty. The Tribe and state have fought for decades over issues such as cigarette taxes and highway tolls, and most recently, the parties dispute the more than $255 million that New York State claims the Tribe owes the state. After the Seneca Nation fulfilled its 14-year obligation to the state of New York in late 2016, the Tribe ceased making its $100 million-a-year casino revenue payments. But in April of this year, two members of a three-person arbitration panel ruled that the Tribe must reinstate its payments, and that it owes New York more than $255 million in unpaid casino revenue. The Tribe is pushing to nix the arbitration ruling.
For a long time, it was believed the state was holding the three-mile stretch of unsafe highway through Seneca territory “hostage,” or leveraging it until the Tribe reinstated its revenue sharing payments. Fortunately New York, which receives tolls for traffic on the portion of highway that runs through the Cattaraugus Territory, has agreed to put driver safety above the ongoing dispute and honor the Seneca Nation’s multiple requests for desperately needed road repair.