Coalition Leaders Make the Case for Route 17 Expansion

John Jordan | February 2020

From left, Michael Lawler, partner, Checkmate Strategies, and Director of 17-Forward-86; HGAR COO Ann Garti; HGAR CEO Richard Haggerty; Maureen Halahan, president and CEO, Orange County Partnership and co-chair of 17-Forward-86; Michael Fleischer, Esq., president, Strategic Public Affairs NY, a lobbyist for the coalition and Daniel Ortega, community affairs, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, coalition member.

GOSHEN—Although Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature are currently grappling with how to close a $6-billion budget shortfall, representatives of a coalition advocating for a $500-million project to expand Route 17 from Harriman in Orange County to Monticello in Sullivan County are undeterred in their belief that now is the time to move forward with the project.

The Mid-Hudson region has seen significant economic growth in recent years. The Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties will soon have to contend with additional traffic from the LEGOLAND New York resort in Goshen, which is scheduled to open in July; and Amy’s Kitchen in Goshen. Route 17, which currently features two lanes in the east and westbound directions, is the primary arterial to the fledgling Resorts World Catskills Casino Resort and the adjoining Kartrite Resort & Waterpark in Monticello, as well as the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, also in Sullivan County.

In Orange County, in addition to LEGOLAND New York, which will feature a new Exit 125 being built by developer Merlin Entertainment, the southern part of the county at the junction of Route 17 and I-87 is the highly popular Woodbury Common Premium Outlet, which is also in the approval process for another expansion project. A total of approximately 13 million visitors frequent Woodbury Common each year.

Nearby, a possible second casino facility to be operated by the owner of Resort Catskills could be in the offing on a parcel off Route 17 in Harriman if the $100-million electronic gaming project secures approval from the State Legislature.

Construction was recently completed on $150 million in state roadway and bridge improvements in and around Exit 131 near Woodbury Common and the New York State Thruway, including the introduction of cashless tolling.

If that were not enough business activity for the Route 17 corridor, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus recently told Real Estate In-Depth that Great Wolf Lodge is considering a number of Orange County sites for possible development, including the former Camp LaGuardia property off Route 17 in the towns of Blooming Grove and Chester. Great Wolf is also considering other properties in Orange County as well.  Neuhaus recently revealed that the county will be releasing a Request for Proposals for the Camp LaGuardia property, which is owned by Orange County.

A panel of representatives from the 17 Forward 86 coalition briefed a group of real estate professionals on Feb. 14. The panel at the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors Commercial Investment Division session held at the HGAR offices in Goshen featured Maureen Halahan, president and CEO, Orange County Partnership and co-chair of 17-Forward-86; Michael Lawler, partner, Checkmate Strategies, and Director of 17-Forward-86; Michael Fleischer, Esq., president, Strategic Public Affairs NY, a lobbyist for the coalition and Daniel Ortega, community affairs, Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, coalition member.

Michael Fleischer, Esq., president, Strategic Public Affairs NY, said the coalition a PEL study on the Route 17 corridor could begin in April.

Lawler said that since Gov. Cuomo proposed a two-year capital program instead of a five-year plan, the $500 million cost for the project will have to be secured in two different NYSDOT capital programs.

“Our objective now is to move the ball forward and get at least $100 million in construction funds in the second year of the two-year capital plan,” he said. Lawler said that the Route 17 expansion initiative has received unanimous support from the Hudson Valley state delegation.

Ortega estimated that the five-year construction project would employ approximately 500 construction workers and result in the creation of another 1,000 indirect jobs.

17-Forward-86 launched its campaign on March 6, 2019 at a press conference in Albany. The coalition is seeking $500 million from New York State to add a third lane east and west on Route 17 to enable future designation as Interstate 86 in the region. The coalition proposes that NYSDOT budget $100 million over a five-year period.

Last year, the coalition scored a significant victory when NYSDOT announced its intent to undertake a $5-million Planning and Environmental Linkage study (PEL), that will identify priority locations for improvement and conduct necessary environmental assessments and preliminary engineering. Fleischer said the PEL study is expected to begin in April.

Halahan said that there is an unprecedent pipeline of potential development projects coming to Orange County and the one major headwind that could deter future economic growth is traffic on Route 17. In fact, the specter of traffic congestion is causing some communities in Orange County to either consider or implement a building moratorium. The Town of New Windsor has imposed a moratorium on residential and commercial development, while the Town of Montgomery, which recently approved a more than 1 million-square-foot Amazon warehouse project, is also considering a moratorium. Another more than 1-million-square-foot distribution facility in Montgomery proposed by health care products manufacturer Medline is currently in the approval process as well.

The hotel industry is banking on business growth in the region. At present, there are approximately 52 hotels in Orange County that are either open, under construction or in the planning stages, accounting for approximately 4,400 rooms. Many of these hotel properties are located along the Route 17 corridor, Halahan noted. At present, there are seven hotels actively in the construction or planning stages in Orange County, six of which are located adjacent to Route 17. “And there are more coming,” she said.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth