Today is the day the Barnes Avenue Bridge closes. The closing is the subject of another OD article today. Unless you are a bicyclist or prepared for a very long walk, the closure seals off access to a boat launch, picnic pavilion, nature trail system with viewing towers and platform, wetlands (including newly constructed ones) and several businesses . . .
Judging from the comments posted on the story, most people are placing blame on the City of Utica which is responsible for the bridge -- missing entirely the larger cause of the situation. There almost seems to be a sense of entitlement among those commenting that Utica is somehow obliged to maintain the infrastructure on which the Marcy and State property owners depend for access . . .
Pinning responsibility on municipal labels perpetuates the entitlement mentality, depersonalizing responsibility and making it easy to lay blame on a "corrupt" government . . .
When viewed from the perspective of "the people" . . . . those receiving services . . . those paying the costs to provide them . . . and those handing responsibility for both to "government" . . . the problem becomes understandable:
Local government no longer binds together the people who receive, pay for, and have an interest in services.
Marcy cannot give its Barnes Ave. taxpayers the street access they need; Utica taxpayers have no incentive to give those people access when they get nothing in return; so the bridge falls apart. Had the Marcy Barnes Ave. properties been annexed into Utica, the property owners would have been represented on the Common Council, the deterioration would have been noted, the taxes coming in would have been an incentive to pay attention to the problem, and the bridge would have been fixed.
The disconnect between people receiving, paying for, and having an interest in services has been institutionalized in the set up of the Water Authority and the Part County Sewer District -- where most of the customers reside in the City of Utica, but far flung systems that go into Clayville, Westmoreland, or, potentially Verona, must be maintained. The population base within the City of Utica carries these systems in the outlying areas where the population density is too low for them to be self-supporting. The Water Authority and Sewer District are later stages of the same dysfunction that has created the Barnes Ave. Bridge closure.
Take the current Water Authority legal problems, for example. When the system was owned by the City of Utica, Gray Reservoir was just about the right size to serve the water needs of the population within the City of Utica's limits. Under the 1917 Agreement, however, for the city's Board of Water Supply to take additional water from Hinckley Reservoir to supply suburban demand, an expensive expansion of Gray Reservoir would have been required. There was no incentive, however, for city residents to take on this responsibility as long as the suburban areas demanding water insisted on remaining independent. The expansion did not get done . . . and the stage was set for events leading up to the present day lawsuit.
The Sewer System was similar. There was no incentive for Utica to expand the sewage treatment plant and collector system to serve a wider area as long as suburban jurisdictions were unwilling to become part of Utica and share their tax base. A county system was eventually created to get around this problem, setting the stage for the suburban sewer violations that now will plague the region with costs for years to come.
The Barnes Ave Bridge closure symbolizes the inadequacy of our city and suburban fiefdoms to deal with regional infrastructure issues. Local government must be reformed to bind together the people who receive, pay for, and have an interest in services.