17-Forward 86 Coalition Hails Release of REFEI On Rte. 17 Study as ‘Major Victory’ for Region
John Jordan | May 2019
ALBANY—New York State has begun what transportation, business and construction industry leaders describe as a critical step in an ongoing effort to improve mobility on the much traveled and highly congested Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties, including studying the addition of a third lane on the heavily traveled corridor.
The New York State Department of Transportation has issued a Request for Expressions of Interest for an engineering firm to begin a scoping and preliminary review process. The work is part of a state-funded $5-million Planning and Environmental Linkage study (PEL), which includes identifying priority locations and conducting environmental assessments and preliminary engineering. Funding for the PEL was committed as part of the state’s 2018-2019 budget.
“This is great news for this critical project,” said Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership and co-chair of 17-Forward-86, a coalition of stakeholders that has been advocating for creating a third lane between Harriman in Orange County and Exit 103 in Monticello, Sullivan County.
“It’s a major victory for our coalition and for all the residents of our region,” Halahan added. “We’re proud to be part of this vital effort to expand Route 17 and improve our quality of life and the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills.”
17-Forward-86 has been engaging state legislators to secure funding in the NYSDOT’s multi-year capital plan to enable the implementation of recommendations contained in a 2013 capacity study issued by NYSDOT.
The 2013 study, prompted by U.S. Sen. Chuck 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. Coalition members have also been meeting directly with the NYSDOT in connection with this initiative. The NYSDOT’s next capital plan is expected to begin in April 2020 and will be funded by state and federal funds.
“This project will have a significant impact on our workforce by creating over 3,000 construction jobs in our area,” said Michael Makarski, of the Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative, Local 825. “And that in turn will directly benefit our communities, businesses and overall economy.”
The 2019 Route 17 Transportation Scoping/PEL Study will use a scoping/PEL process to develop, evaluate and select transportation alternatives to address identified needs in the study area. The study will be completed in a manner in accordance with the FHWA PEL process.
“The PEL study will lay the technical groundwork to make this project a reality,” said Coalition Co-chair Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development. “We are so pleased to see the DOT moving forward to continue efforts from the previous study and deliver the resources to go forward. This sets the stage for inclusion of Route 17 capacity enhancements in the upcoming capital program.”
17-Forward-86 launched its campaign on March 6 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 each year in its five-year capital plan. As the volume of traffic on the corridor continues to increase, the mobility issues negatively affect everything from economic development and tourism, to public safety, the environment and population growth.
“This is not just about businesses wanting to expand,” said Nancy Proyect, president of the Orange County Citizens Foundation. “This is about smart growth for our communities and will benefit all of our residents.”
The 2013 Route 17 Transportation Corridor Study noted that the existing congestion and delays on Route 17 will worsen over the near- and long-term, and that the volume of development along the corridor necessitates an additional lane/added capacity.
The 2013 study was completed prior to the recent openings of the Resorts World Catskills Casino & Resort and the adjacent Katrite Resort & Indoor Water Park in Sullivan County and prior to a major expansion by Woodbury Common Premium Outlets in Central Valley, which is now in the approval process on another significant expansion endeavor that will add more retail, restaurants and parking to the complex.
Also, in the Route 17 corridor, a $100-million Amy’s Kitchen project is being developed in Goshen, not to mention a $500-million LEGOLAND New York theme park, also along Route 17 in Goshen that will require the developer Merlin Entertainments to build a new Exit 125 interchange that will allow easy access to the theme park and adjacent properties.
In addition, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus has previously reported the county is in talks with Great Wolf Lodge to build a resort facility in Orange County. One of the properties Great Wolf is said to be studying is the Camp LaGuardia property owned by Orange County in Blooming Grove and Chester bordering Route 17.
Yonkers Contracting Co. is working on a major improvement project adjacent to Exit 131 that when completed will have all electronic tolling and significantly improved highway access to Woodbury Common. That project, along with improvements on the adjacent New York State Thruway Exit 16 are projected to be valued at approximately $150 million.
Projections by the Cornell Program of Applied Demographics bolster the coalition’s claims that roadway improvements and expansion of Route 17 are in order. The region’s demograpnhic indicators note 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.
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 to an additional 50,000 on any given weekend. Woodbury Common alone attracts an estimated 13 million visitors each year.
17-Forward-86 was established in August 2018 by a group of advocates who support the widening of Route 17. The coalition comprises more than 200 members of economic development groups, construction trades, tourism groups and energy companies who share a common vision for expanding the capacity of Route 17 to strengthen the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills.