News

New York State’s path to recovery can be paved through infrastructure projects

August 3, 2020

The Journal News

By Ross J. Pepe

“New York, like states all across the country, confronts the immediate effects of a paralyzing national recession, the longer-term challenge of improving our competitive position in the global economy, and the specter of a dangerous, ugly divisiveness among our people.”

Those words, but with the single substitution of “pandemic” for “recession,” are as true today as they were in 1992 when spoken by then-Gov. Mario M. Cuomo as he called for a national coming together with action to cure our collective woes.

During the COVID-19 crisis, the people of New York State have benefited from the leadership of his son, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, our state legislators and local officials. New Yorkers, through a remarkable collective willingness to “crush the curve” and a heartfelt outpouring of support, are demonstrating what it means to stand and work together. We are grateful to our first responders, health care workers and all the women and men behind the scenes — building and construction trades, public service, education, food and other services — working to maintain a sense of normalcy for all of us.

This is not business-as-usual and it may never be again, following the protracted “New York on Pause” and historic levels of unemployment. Where do we go from here? Let’s take a page out of the history books and study the past six recessions and the Great Depression. The path to economic recovery was mainly paved by investment: “We need to rebuild the physical foundation upon which all economic activity depends,” said the senior Gov. Cuomo. That begins with investment in our infrastructure, which is an exceptionally efficient long-term job creator. For nearly a century of American life and economic growth, it has been proven that each $1 billion invested in infrastructure yields thousands of direct jobs and a multiplier of that in indirect jobs. We need only look to the new $4 billion Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which generated more than 6,600 living-wage jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs in the region.

As New York State reopens, we must invest in our state’s long-term health. Infrastructure is a bridge to the future, as it creates jobs so people can start and raise families, build stronger communities and boost local economies. A half-dozen major transportation projects are poised to move forward in New York. One of those involves widening Route 17 in the Hudson Valley and transforming the corridor into Interstate 86. Our Coalition — 17-Forward-86 — is seeking to add a third lane in each direction on Route 17 to improve mobility, enhance safety and ensure the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan County Catskills. We have more than 200 members of economic development and tourism groups, construction trades and energy companies representing thousands of individuals in the region. Widening Route 17 is critical — the corridor is already over-capacity and we must prepare for added traffic as more companies invest here.

In addition, there are projects on Long Island (Oakdale merge) and upstate New York (I-81 viaduct project in Syracuse) that will have the same effect of advancing mobility efficiency and improving our daily lives. This is the time to move forward. Today’s highly competitive construction marketplace offers significant savings for public agencies and departments, which will benefit from low-interest bond rates.

We all have felt the impacts of this pandemic — personally and professionally — and we believe that working together we will persevere. Let’s take those steps now to pave our path to recovery.

Ross J. Pepe is a founding member of the 17-Forward-86 Coalition and President of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc. To learn more about the coalition, visit www.17Forward86.org.

Maureen Halahan and Marc Baez: Working together to rebuild our workforce, our region

May 4, 2020

Westchester County Business Journal

By Maureen Halahan and Marc Baez

During these uncertain times, the people of New York state have benefited from Gov. Cuomo’s leadership and that of our federal, state and local officials while, once again, showing remarkable resilience. So much has happened so quickly, and we applaud our elected representatives for taking decisive action to ensure the safety of our residents and the security of our region.

Our coalition – 17-Forward-86, composed of business, labor, environmental and community leaders – is grateful to our brave and tireless first responders and health care workers, who continue putting themselves at risk to keep us safe. We’re thankful for those behind the scenes – our colleagues in the building and construction trades, public service, education, pharmacies, food and other services – working to maintain a sense of normalcy for the rest of us.

We recognize that more struggles are to come, and are sensitive to the seriousness of the pandemic and cognizant that many unforeseen challenges lie ahead. Our state will reopen, but rebuilding our workforce, businesses and economy will require collective innovation and powerful leadership. Investing in our infrastructure is an essential part of our economic recovery.

17-Forward-86 was established in 2017 with the goal of improving mobility in the region. We now comprise more than 200 members of economic development groups, community organizations, construction trades, tourism groups and energy companies representing thousands of individuals who share a common vision for expanding the capacity of Route 17 to ensure the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills.

Improving the Route 17 corridor and upgrading other key infrastructure in the region will enhance safety and strengthen our economy. It will improve mobility and provide critical access for first responders and safer routes for all motorists as vehicles once again fill our roads. It will create good-paying jobs, which will help restore a sense of stability in our communities and give local economies a much-needed boost.

One road leads to another and Route 17 is a critical artery in the Hudson Valley, New York State and the region. Traffic has been steadily increasing for decades and even more so in recent years as new businesses have located or expanded here. A host of planned developments will add even more vehicles to the heavily traveled corridor. We need these investments as we reopen for business, so we must ensure our roads can handle the added capacity.

We’re moving in the right direction. Local and state officials have voiced support for widening Route 17. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has long been a proponent of improving mobility on the corridor.

Last year, the DOT selected an engineering firm to begin a scoping and preliminary review process as part of a $5 million Planning and Environmental Linkage study, laying the groundwork for the widening of Route 17. We had been advocating for $500 million in state and federal funding necessary to see the project through, but right now Gov. Cuomo and our elected officials are, rightly, focused on our safety and getting us past these difficult times.

As New York state prepares to reopen for business, we are confident our leaders will look to infrastructure investment as a key driver of our economic prosperity. No one could have foreseen this – but, together, we will get through it and we continue to prepare for our region’s future. Now, more than ever, we must work together to enhance our safety, improve our quality of life and ensure our economic viability for generations to come.

Maureen Halahan is the president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership in Goshen  and co-chair of 17-Forward-86. Marc Baez is the president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development in Monticello and co-chair of 17-Forward-86. To learn more, visit www.17Forward86.org.

Officials want to ease ‘pain’ on Rte. 17

February 26, 2020

Times Herald-Record

By Rachel Ettlinger

TOWN OF WALLKILL – Residents, lawmakers and community stakeholders are tired of waiting for action on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties. They said Wednesday they want to “add a third lane to ease the pain.”

As the region braces for what is likely to be a busier-than-ever tourism season, with the expected opening of Legoland in Goshen, the community wants to see improvements made, and a third lane added in both directions, from exit 103 in Monticello through 131 in Harriman. The coalition, 17-Forward-86, is looking to, after decades of discussion, make this a reality in the state’s budget this year.

“Every year we kick this down the road it gets more expensive,” Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus said of the project, which, in 2013, was estimated to cost about $500 million.

During a breakfast at the West Hills Country Club in the Town of Wallkill, 17-Forward-86 Director Michael Lawler moderated a panel of multiple community stakeholders who touched on the public safety, local economy and quality of life issues that are at the forefront.

Some attendees noted that members of the Hasidic community should be welcomed to conversations like these because their population is one that is growing rapidly in the two counties.

As soon as April, the state Department of Transportation will begin an environmental and engineering study to analyze raising Route 17 to federal interstate standards for size and safety, coalition leaders said. It would take between 12 and 18 months.

Getting the message out to people about this initiative is key, said Town of Wallkill Commissioner of Public Works Louis Ingrassia. Otherwise the decades-long wait will continue.

“It’s very frustrating,” Ingrassia said.

Investing in mass transit like buses and trains would help ease the burden, especially on Friday and Sunday nights as weekenders come and go, Lawler said.

“But it’s really gotten beyond that,” Lawler said.

Hudson Valley coalition pushing for Route 17 expansion

February 14, 2020

News 12 Westchester

A coalition advocating for the expansion of Route 17 is meeting with local realtors and investors in Orange County about the impacts of the proposal.

The coalition, called 17-Forward-86, is pushing for the addition of a third lane from Harriman all the way into Sullivan County, which would eventually become Interstate 86. The group believes that quality of life and tourism will improve upon completion of the project.

News 12 is told the coalition is asking the state Department of Transportation to allocate $5 million to begin work.

Michael Lawler, of 17-Forward-86, cites projects such as Legoland, Woodbury Commons and others that he says are great “economic engines” for the region.

“We want to support that effort and we believe we need to expand Route 17 to do that,” Lawler says.

Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of Orange County Partnership, is underscoring the importance of letting people know the traffic issues aren’t permanent.

“It is so important to spread the word that we don’t have to struggle forever with the traffic along 17 corridor. We have to make it an interstate highway. We have to add the third lane. And we have to continue to bring commerce in. It’s just critically important to stabilize our economy,” she says.

The Department of Transportation is expected to release a two-year capital plan on Feb. 15 which would detail funding for possible projects.

17-Forward-86 is hoping the expansion of Route 17 will be included.

Big commercial projects find home in mid-Hudson

December 30, 2019

Times Herald-Record

By Daniel Axelrod

Economic development keeps humming in the mid-Hudson, more than 10 years into the longest economic expansion in U.S. history.

On 2020′s eve, local economic development officials reflected on hundreds of millions of dollars of projects in Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties.

Sure, the U.S. economy will stop growing, the economic development officials acknowledged. But, they added, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties have unique strengths – natural beauty, space to build on, highways and proximity to 30 million people within a three-hour drive – that’ll keep development and tourism stronger for longer.

“All these future projects are related in that they come down to a strategic location,” said Bill Fioravanti, Orange County’s economic development director. “The region has been rediscovered, over the last few years.”

Orange County especially is booming. In 2017 and 2018 alone, the Orange County Partnership, a nonprofit economic development agency, estimates it helped lure more than $914.75 million in new capital investments, while adding 2,350 jobs and 2.53 million square feet of commercial space.

For 2019, Orange County saw more than $154.21 million in new capital investments, 473 new jobs created and 772,335 square feet of new commercial space, with help from the Partnership.

“The last four years have seen the most monumental changes in the Hudson Valley since I began working in economic development 18 years ago,” said Maureen Halahan, the Partnership’s president and CEO.

Sullivan County, meanwhile, is benefiting from having room to build, said Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership, another nonprofit economic development agency.

“Rockland County is full, Dutchess County is full, Westchester County is cranking, Orange County is getting full,” Baez said. “Before, people pretty much let every project come to Orange County without backlash. Now, people are looking at every project and saying, ‘Do we want this in our community?’”

Tourism also continues to be a boon, driving a lodging explosion. In 2018 (the most recent data), Orange County saw 5 million visitors (spending $577 million), not counting Woodbury Common Premium Outlets; compared with 5.3 million ($651.53 million) in Ulster County and 4 million ($515.08 million) in Sullivan County.

A recent Times Herald-Record analysis of approved and proposed hospitality projects found that Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties’ room count (for hotels, motels, resorts, lodges and inns) could rise up to 41 percent by 2024.

That increase would add 3,110 rooms to the three counties’ current total of 7,578. Many of Orange County’s visitors are business travelers staying for development projects and local companies in light manufacturing, e-commerce, distribution and energy generation.

In Ulster County, in 2020, locals will be watching Ken Pasternak and Emily Fisher’s effort to find investors for the long-stalled $365 million Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park (629 rooms) in the Town of Shandaken.

The partners also are counting on the repair and linking of slopes at the state’s neighboring ski area, Belleayre Mountain.

Elsewhere, the following projects and initiatives will be among the most important to watch in 2020.

Orange County 

Legoland New York, Town of Goshen

Legoland New York is on track to open July 4, said a spokesman for the $500 million theme park, being built off Route 17′s Exit 125.

The park’s eight themed areas will include a small brick factory; Lego Friends in Heartlake City, with hip young women leading children on adventures; Knight’s Kingdom, with a Dragon Coaster; Pirate Shores; Miniland, with world landmarks built from Lego bricks; Bricktopia, with rides like a Lego carousel; Ninjago, an interactive ninja training area; and Lego City, where children can drive electric Lego race cars.

So far, the track is up for the coaster, with walls installed in the building that’ll house it. Maintenance and warehouse buildings are enclosed, steel is in the ground and walls are going up for Ninjago and Lego City, and progress is steady on a park store and Pirate Shores.

The company, which is building a new Exit 125 and widening Route 17 near the park, has installed new exit ramps and paved some of the site’s interior roads.

Plus, Legoland has repaved Harriman Drive, which the company is lobbying to rename Legoland Boulevard.

Locals remain concerned about how an already-crowded Route 17 will handle up to 3,500 additional cars per day from April to October in the park’s peak season.

On the positive side, if Legoland proves a hit, it has great economic potential and it’ll provide much-needed local tax revenues, town leaders have said.

Three-hundred-sixty of Legoland’s employees will earn between $40,000 and $100,000 annually. Then, there’s beneficial spending by the park’s operators and visitors.

One study of Legoland’s Winter Haven, Fla., property estimated it generated $1.60 in local benefits for every $1 spent on construction and operations, or nearly $1 billion of total economic activity from 2010 through 2015 alone.

Besides finishing construction, the company’s major undertakings include hiring a total of around 1,000 employees, with the next job fair planned for Jan. 11 at Kuhl’s Highland House in the Town of Wallkill.

Legoland also must stop the construction runoff issues for which the state Department of Environmental Conservation has cited the company nearly 30 times for polluting sensitive and threatened creeks and streams.

Runoff has been occurring, during nearly every rain beyond a drizzle, for well over a year. Construction runoff can have serious ripple effects, killing fish, bugs and plants, while reducing the quality of the water draining into local watersheds, environmental scientists have told the Record.

Also, the park’s 250-room hotel is now slated to open in 2021, a parking deck is no longer planned, and a date for Legoland’s future Sea Life aquarium has yet to be set, a company spokesman said.

Amy’s Kitchen, Town of Goshen

The organic, vegetarian food maker will begin major construction of its $150 million factory on Route 17M in the summer, with the first production line set to run at the end of 2021, a company spokeswoman said.

The 390,000-square-foot factory’s 680 employees will make 640,000 meals per day for the factory’s California-based owners, the Berliner family. Project engineering is underway, and water and sewage lines are about three-quarters complete.

The Science of the Soul, an Eastern spiritual movement to which the Berliners belong, is building a $30 million meeting complex, also due in 2021, next to the future food factory.

Medline Industries Inc. & Bluewater Industrial Partners LLC, Town of Montgomery

Two separate, giant warehouse projects are currently before the Town of Montgomery Planning Board. Medline, America’s largest private maker and distributor of medical supplies, wants to build the biggest warehouse in Orange County history.

The $110 million, 1.3 million-square-foot distribution center, proposed for along state Route 416, would replace Northfield, Ill.-based Medline’s distribution center in Wawayanda.

Commercial builder Bluewater’s $72 million development, code-named Project Sailfish, is thought to be for the online retailer Amazon. The 1-million-plus-square-foot warehouse is proposed for 635 International Dr.

Some locals worry about the environmental and traffic effects of adding warehouses, considering other forthcoming commercial and residential projects, while questioning whether big companies need tax breaks for incentivization.

Simone Development Companies, New Windsor

Phase one of this multi-phase project, at Breunig Road and International Boulevard, on roughly 100 acres beside New York Stewart International Airport in New Windsor, is a $17.3 million, 128-room SpringHill Suites by Marriott.

Construction will begin, come spring, concluding in mid-2021. Two or more future phases, currently being planned, could include medical offices, retail and Class-A office space – perhaps like a smaller version of Bronx-based builder Simone Development Companies’ Hutchinson Metro Center, a big-time development.

Orange & Sullivan counties

Route 17 third lane, from Woodbury to Liberty

The state Department of Transportation is currently reevaluating the logistics and costs of adding a third lane to Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties, Halahan said. Whether the state appropriates funding in 2020 will be a question on the mind of local leaders, like Halahan and Baez, who help lead the coalition lobbying for it.

Sullivan County

Center for Discovery specialty hospital, Town of Thompson

The Center for Discovery, a renowned caregiver and researcher for individuals with complex developmental disabilities, is planning a $25 million project to transform the former Frontier Insurance building into a sub-acute care specialty hospital for those individuals, plus a research center and educational space.

Industrial parks, towns of Thompson & Liberty

Sullivan County leaders want to create one or more light industrial parks along Old Route 17, including on county-owned land in Thompson, and on six groupings of properties, which are owned by private landholders, between Ferndale and Harris.

Eldred Preserve, Town of Highland

The Eldred Preserve, an approximately $20 million hospitality project under construction on Route 55 in Eldred, is due in 2020. It combines three brands – The Eldred Preserve, The Bradstan Country Hotel, and The Old Homestead Restaurant – into one resort.

Monster Golf Course, Town of Thompson

This much-anticipated, much-delayed reboot of the legendary Catskills course is due in 2020. Located next to the Resorts World Catskills casino, which shares owners with the course, the project’s execution and promotion will be a symbolic indicator of how well the casino’s new private ownership structure is operating the properties.

Casino magnate K.T. Lim and Genting Malaysia recently teamed to buy out other shareholders of the gaming and entertainment complex’s parent company, Empire Resorts. Now, Lim and Genting hope to run the money-hemorrhaging company more smoothly and profitably than when it was publicly traded.

Ulster County

IBM Tech Cities, Town of Ulster

Ulster County has been gradually seizing parcels of the former IBM typewriter factory complex, now known as Tech City, in tax foreclosure, including a large building once operated by Bank of America.

But Tech City owner Alan Ginsberg has been trying to use the bankruptcy process to fend off foreclosure. The county, meanwhile, also is working with the Town of Ulster and the EPA to make Ginsberg, and A2 Environmental Solutions of Newburgh, clean the asbestos-contaminated site.

Ulster 2040 & New economic department, Ulster County

County Executive Pat Ryan appointed Lisa Berger as the county’s director of economic development on Sept. 9. Berger’s new, separate Economic Development Department, created in October, replaced the county’s Office of Economic Development, which fell under the Planning Department.

Crucially, Berger has been helping lead a new economic development working group, Ulster 2040, also created by Ryan, to grow the county’s economy and ensure local residents are equitably served by that growth.

“Ulster County is really focused on addressing the things that have stood in the way of our businesses expanding and being retained,” Berger said. “From housing to transportation and child care, we (county leaders) want to help businesses get the workforce they need.”

Kingston rising

Nonprofit RUPCO’s $22.6 million Energy Square – a five-story apartment building with affordable housing – is due early next year.

Boutique hotels are planned, and actress Mary Stuart Masterson’s Stockade Works film and TV production training program continues developing a reputation.

Kingston’s continued rise will be worth watching in 2020, thanks to those and other projects and initiatives.

Senators demand widening of Route 17: This project cannot wait any longer

December 11, 2019

News 12 Westchester

There are renewed calls today to approve a $500 million roadway expansion project in Orange County.

Sens. James Skoufis (D) and Jen Metzger (D) joined I-86 project advocates today in Harriman, urging the state to consider expanding Route 17 in the upcoming 5-year capital plan.

Project plans have been in the works for nearly 20 years and would expand both sides of Route 17 by three lanes.

Advocates say with the new LEGOLAND New York Resort coming this summer, the expansion is needed more than ever. “This is a quality-of-life issue, this is a safety issue, this is a business and economic development issue, this is a tourism issue. The simple matter of fact is that this project cannot wait any longer,” says Skoufis.

The state Department of Transportation has until next month to complete its capital plan approval.

My turn

November 1, 2019

The Chronicle

Widening Route 17 is crucial to the Hudson Valley’s economic viability

By Marc Baez

Doing business in New York is tough, and at every turn we encounter another barrier. Taxes, health care premiums, housing – you name it, the costs are on the rise. Mix in regulations and other restrictions, and it’s understandable why some companies choose to locate elsewhere.

Yet, here in the Hudson Valley we’re seeing more growth and investment. People are willing to pay the price to live, work and play here because our region is unique.

The Hudson Valley is second to none, with an innovative workforce; exceptional schools, universities and health care facilities; the finest and bravest first responders; an unparalleled quality-of-life; and an abundance of cultural and historic attractions.

With this growth, however, comes another barrier. Mobility. More jobs and more visitors mean more traffic on the Route 17 corridor, which is already over capacity. Our coalition – 17-Forward-86 – represents more than 200 members who support widening Route 17 in Sullivan and Orange counties.

We’re seeking $500 million from New York State to add a third lane north and south on Route 17 to alleviate the chokehold and enable future designation as Interstate 86 in the region. Upgrading Route 17 to Interstate 86 stands to generate $82 million in additional state sales tax revenue for the state.

A 2013 Transportation Corridor Study found that congestion on Route 17 will worsen over time and development in the region necessitates the additional lane. The state Department of Transportation recently selected the engineering firm WSP to conduct a new study of traffic conditions on the corridor. This will lay the technical groundwork to get the project moving. And, we’re hopeful it will put us in a position to secure funding in the DOT’s multi-year capital plan, expected to begin in March 2020, to start construction.

We need to move forward.

In Sullivan County, the continued growth of tourism is steadily increasing traffic. Our county typically receives 4 million visitors annually, which was expected to increase to 8 million by the end of 2020. This year, we’re projecting to hit 7 million – putting us ahead of expectations. And, in 2018 alone, we took in $550 million in travel spending. We’ve seen the construction of major tourist attractions, such as The Resorts World Catskills casino and Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark.

Orange County, too, is experiencing a boom in activity. In Goshen, Amy’s Kitchen is building a plant to process its frozen organic meals and employ 600 people, and Legoland New York plans to open on July 4, 2020.

Let’s keep in mind some of these developments weren’t even proposed at the time of the 2013 transportation study.

Our long-term economic health depends on the quality of our infrastructure.

Expanding Route 17 is crucial to that. We have an important choice to make. nvest now in our region’s future or risk driving away our businesses, colleagues and neighbors who are fed up with the gridlock.

That’s a cost none of us can afford.

Marc Baez is President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership and Co-Chair of 17-Forward-86. To learn more, visit www.17Forward86.org.

Resolution for Town of Warwick to Support Upgrading Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan Counties

October 25, 2019

WHEREAS, The Mid-Hudson Region is achieving economic and population growth due to its proximity to New York City and other states as well as being home to attractive communities with a high quality of life.

WHEREAS, The Region has an immediate requirement for infrastructure investments to allow economic development to continue and maintain the Region’s ability to attract jobs and preserve its quality of life for its citizens.

WHEREAS, In May of 2013, the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) issued a study (The Route 17 Transportation Corridor Study) that recommended a new General Use Third Lane be developed along the Route 17 Corridor and found that “additional transportation capacity is needed to address existing and projected levels of congestion in the corridor, provide for enhanced mobility, and allow for future economic growth in both Sullivan and Orange Counties.”

WHEREAS, while the improvements underway at Interchange 131 near Woodbury Common, and the proposed improvements to accommodate LEGOLAND are welcome and necessary, they will not address the existing and worsening traffic issues along the Corridor.

WHEREAS, investments along the Route 17 Corridor are consistent with smart growth principles and the 2011 report issued by the Open Space Institute (Private Lands, Public Benefits) which found that Sullivan County has the greatest percentage of preferred growth area in the Catskills, “which is largely concentrated in the center of the county and coincides with significant, established infrastructure.”

WHEREAS, the full conversion of Route 17 to interstate standards (I-86) was previously scheduled to be completed by 2009, but that has not occurred in many of the eastern sections of Route 17. Major upgrades to Route 17 need to be implemented to meet interstate standards.

WHEREAS, as part of the 2018-19 New York State Budget, the New York State Department of Transportation has committed to “provide up to $5 million to advance environmental and design activities related to the construction of a third travel lane along the Route 17 Corridor in Orange and Sullivan Counties.”

WHEREAS, the New York State Department of Transportation anticipates hiring a consultant to conduct a Planning and Environmental Linkage Study (PEL) in the Spring of 2019 as the next step in the process leading to the implementation of the recommendations from the Corridor Study, providing locations of priority and conducting environmental assessments and preliminary engineering.

WHEREAS, the current estimate of the cost of implementing the Corridor Study is approximately $500 million.

WHEREAS, the Mid-Hudson Valley/Catskills Region needs to continue to grow and attract businesses and jobs, and the 2013 NYSDOT Study has documented the requirements of the Route 17 Corridor.

NOW, THEREFORE, it is hereby RESOLVED, that we, the Town of Warwick: Strongly support efforts to improve the Route 17 Corridor and encourages the New York State Department of Transportation to begin as soon as possible the environmental processes necessary to advance the construction of a third lane along the Route 17 Corridor consistent with interstate standards.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that $500 million in Capital Funding to make these important investments along the Route 17 Corridor be included in the State’s and Nation’s Infrastructure Programs so that the necessary projects to modernize Route 17 can commence as soon as possible.

Click here to download the resolution.

DOT picks consultant for Route 17 traffic study

October 9, 2019

Times Herald-Record

By Judy Rife

ALBANY — Right on schedule, the state Department of Transportation has selected a consultant to conduct a new study of increasingly congested traffic conditions on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties.

The DOT’s choice from the companies that responded to the request for proposals it released in May is WSP, the same international consulting engineering behemoth that did a similar study in 2013.

The study will begin this fall and is expected to take 18 months to complete, but a more specific timeline, including the dates for the initial public meetings to solicit ideas, will not be available until the DOT and WSP finalize the details of their contract.

“It’s a critical step in the direction we’ve all been working toward,″ said Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development. “It will position us to see construction begin, assuming we can get the funds included in the DOT’s next capital plan — and we’re getting very positive response on that possibility.”

Added Maureen Halahan, Baez’s counterpart at the Orange County Partnership: “We’re happy the state is moving forward. We expect to be very involved in the study, participating, supporting, advocating.”

Baez and Halahan are among the leaders of the 17 Forward 86 Coalition that has been lobbying for the addition of a third lane on Route 17 in both directions. The coalition was instrumental in getting state legislators to include up to $5 million in the 2018-19 budget to pay for the new study.

The 2013 study found that Route 17 traffic volumes through 2045 would support construction of a third lane from the New York State Thruway in the Village of Woodbury to the Route 211 and Interstate 84 interchanges in the Town of Wallkill.

Traffic volumes, however, fell off significantly after the four-lane highway passed those interchanges and entered Sullivan County.

The new study, the DOT has said, will build upon the old one, reviewing prior assumptions about the traffic impacts of development as well as revisiting recommendations for improvements to interchanges and other elements to position the highway for eventual designation as Interstate 86.

Both Sullivan and Orange counties have seen the construction of major tourist attractions that hadn’t even been proposed at the time of the 2013 study and that have only heightened concern about traffic.

The Resorts World Catskills casino and the adjacent Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark have opened near Monticello, and Legoland New York expects to open in the Town of Goshen on July 4.

In addition, Amy’s Kitchen is building a plant that will employ 600 people to process its frozen organic meals in Goshen, and Woodbury Common Premium Outlets is contemplating yet another expansion in Central Valley.

Editorial: Time’s up for delay of Rt. 17 expansion

October 3, 2019

Times Herald-Record

“Sooner or later, they’ll have to do it.”

Well, sooner is now later and they still haven’t done it.

Local officials, planners, developers, business consultants and, in fact, anyone who drives on Route 17 will recognize that “sooner or later” quote as the unofficial motto of the state Department of Transportation regarding the addition of another lane of traffic in both directions on the increasingly besieged east-west highway.

In the 1960s, when the road was under construction, from Harriman to far western New York state, where it ultimately meets Pennsylvania, it was affectionately and optimistically referred to as “the Quickway.”

Today, as they say, not so much.

Still, spurred by continuing development, we persist. The volume of traffic flowing upstate, through Orange and Sullivan counties on Fridays and back downstate again on Sundays has done nothing but grow since the state conducted a study in 2013. That study showed projected traffic volume through the year 2045 supported adding a third lane in both directions from Harriman to the intersection with I-84 outside Middletown. Yet nothing’s happened.

Since then, the Resorts World Casino and the Kartright Resort and Indoor Waterpark have opened near Monticello in Sullivan County and this week Merlin Entertainment, owners of Legoland, announced plans to open the theme park in Goshen on July 4 next year.

Tick tock.

There’s another familiar saying: Follow the money. It turns out the addition of these attractions, with state blessing by the way, and increased local promotion of the many other ways to enjoy a weekend, or longer, trip to Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties, has resulted in significant increases in tourism dollars in all three counties. Tens of thousands more visitors are coming to the area each year and many of them are driving, or trying to, on Route 17. Since tourism is a major component of local economies, one would only expect the numbers to keep growing.

And finally, Orange County’s population has grown since the road was constructed, moving businesses out of downtowns to shopping malls convenient to on-and-off ramps. Local people use the highway, too, especially to commute to New York City.

The estimated cost of adding two lanes between Harriman and Liberty has been put at $500 million, spread over five years. The availability of rights-of-way in the center median and shoulders would keep costs down for lane additions. Improvements will also have to be made to local access roads. But, for perspective, the DOT’s capital spending budget is $29 billion.

One of the arguments the state has used to delay the inevitable is the need to first upgrade Route 17 to federal standards for conversion to Interstate 86. Please. That is an ongoing project, but given the pace of completion of highway projects in general and the absence of any interest in infrastructure in Washington, it would make sense to just go ahead and make the federally required improvements while also widening the road.

No one stuck in weekend traffic will really care what it’s called or whether it’s considered a federal or state road. They’ll want to know why “they” don’t add a lane. Also, whoever nicknamed it “The Quickway?”