Editorial: No more waiting to widen Route 17

April 8, 2019

Times Herald-Record

Stop us if you’ve heard this before, but it’s about time the state followed up on all of its promises to improve Route 17.

For decades, the notion that the roadway in Orange and Sullivan counties is not up to its task has been a given. And nobody ever seems to disagree.

On a summer Friday evening or a summer Sunday evening, the lanes are full, any accident or construction impediment creates backups that go for miles. Local drivers know the shortcuts and bypasses, but because so much of that weekend traffic is made up of regular visitors, you don’t have to live in Goshen or Monticello to find your way around the bottlenecks.

Anybody who uses one of the many GPS-based devices that specialize in such routes can become as adept as those who grew up around here.

With the casino open and the water park soon to be, with many employers adding workers and with Legoland on track for an opening in a few years, there really is no time to waste.

And as Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development, so accurately put it in a recent story in the Times Herald-Record, “The amount of money we’re talking about is peanuts,” $500 million out of the state Department of Transportation’s $29 billion capital plan to add a third lane in both directions to Route 17 from Harriman to Liberty.

Those who will be making this spending decision should not need to be reminded that they have played a large part in creating this situation. The state decided that the old Concord near Monticello was a good place for one of the casinos it envisioned and getting people there from the metropolitan area was part of the concept. Legoland was a high priority among those in Albany who give out money and in the end they gave it $25 million on top of all of the tax breaks and other financial incentives, all with the assumption that pretty much everyone would be in a vehicle on the way to Goshen, competing with all those casino-bound tourists and sharing the roadway with the usual traffic.

There also is some talk among local officials about making improvements along the Route 17 corridor on those roads which now struggle to accommodate the spillover traffic. While that needs to be done, it should not come at the expense of that third lane in Orange and Sullivan.

Now is the time for a unanimous push, for local officials in both counties and for our representatives in Albany to say that we can wait no longer.

It is imperative that they keep up the pressure because no one knows if the federal government will ever get around to the long-promised, long-awaited infrastructure plan. And anybody navigating the messy construction site at the intersection of Route 17, the Thruway and local roads near Woodbury Common knows how long improvements can take.

The time for the third lane on Route 17 is now and we need those who represent us in Albany and Washington to make sure it happens now.