New York will soon begin the next steps for improving Route 17 to accommodate increased traffic through Orange and Sullivan Counties. The state Department of Transportation is moving toward a preliminary review process. Advocates who support the widening of Route 17 welcome the state’s next step.
Maureen Halahan is president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership and co-chair of 17-Forward 86, a coalition formed in August.
“The 17/86 corridor is literally the gateway to our entire state,” Halahan says. “So it has to be done and we’re going to make that happen.”
New York state DOT has issued a request for proposals for an engineering firm to begin a scoping and preliminary review process. The work is part of an up to $5 million Planning and Environmental Linkage study (PEL), which includes identifying priority locations and conducting environmental assessments and preliminary engineering, including the study of a possible third lane. Funding for the study was committed as part of the state’s 2018-2019 budget.
Marc Baez is president and CEO of Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development. He says the study is a deeper dive following a 2013 study that pre-dated numerous developments, including the Resorts World Catskills casino. The 2013 study, prompted by U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, found that existing congestion and delays on Route 17 will worsen over time and that development in the region necessitates an additional lane/added capacity. Here’s Baez on the DOT’s RFP:
“But this is a big step in getting this particular study done. I hate calling it a study because it’s not just a study, it’s actually work that’s going to be done looking at the different areas that need to be addressed before we would go into a construction phase,” Baez says. “Right now, it’s a great step. It shows the powers that be, so to speak, that we’re serious about this, and that we have pretty much accomplished what we needed to accomplish to set this up for getting the construction part done. And now we’re going to continue to focus on trying to raise the funds to be able to do that in the next five-year capital plan.”
The coalition is seeking $500 million from New York state to add a third lane north and south on Route 17 between Harriman in Orange County and Exit 103 in Monticello, Sullivan County, to enable future designation as Interstate 86 in the region. A DOT spokesman says, “We recognize this is a vital corridor for residents and visitors alike, and appreciate the interest of so many stakeholders. While a project to construct a new third lane in this corridor is not in the current DOT program, which expires on March 31, 2020, it remains under consideration for the Department’s next five-year capital program.” Again, Halahan.
“So, the time is definitely now. The interest is very high in both counties. The companies are pouring in. We have to ensure that there’s going to be the proper infrastructure in place to support new business and to continue to bring jobs to New York state,” Halahan says. “And I think that if we’re not paying attention to these types of infrastructure upgrades, then we are going to continue to see companies go elsewhere.”
Sullivan County Partnership’s Baez is also co-chair of the17-Forward 86:
“Second homeowners and folks coming up here understand what the traffic is like on a Friday night coming this way and on a Sunday night going back home,” says Baez. “So, certainly you can see it, it’s visible, you can feel it.”
He says the continued growth of tourism is also steadily increasing traffic. Sullivan County is expected to receive 8 million visitors in 2019. Currently, the population climbs to 350,000 during the summer months — and an additional 50,000 on any given weekend.
“Certainly, now there’s justification for doing it because development’s taken place,” says Baez. “So the last thing we want to do is slow that down.”
Projections by the Cornell Program on Applied Demographics indicate that, by 2020, Sullivan County’s population will grow to more than 79,000 and Orange County’s to more than 400,000, further increasing traffic along the corridor.