Gov. Hochul Calls for Environmental Study of Future Conversion of Route 17 to I-86
John Jordan | January 13, 2022
ALBANY—The prospect of major upgrades—including the construction of what business and government leaders say is a much-needed third lane on portions of Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties—just got a step closer.
Although not included in her State of the State speech on Jan, 5, accompanying material given to state lawmakers included a directive from New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to the New York State Department of Transportation to undertake an environmental review of the conversion of Route 17 to federal Interstate 86 (I-86).
In her “State of the State Book “presentation, the governor said that as part of her multi-faceted transportation investment initiatives the state would accelerate the conversion of Route 17 into I-86 in Orange and Sullivan counties. Gov. Hochul stated, “Strategic investments in the Mid-Hudson Valley have resulted in the expansion of Woodbury Common and the construction of Legoland and the Resorts World Catskills Casino. Over the past several years, projects have been completed by NYSDOT to upgrade sections of Route 17, including reconstruction of the interchange at Exit 131, where Route 17 meets Interstate 87 and Route 32 (Woodbury Common), and reconstruction of Exits 122 and 125 (Legoland) to meet interstate standards. To facilitate future economic competitiveness and alleviate congestion within the region, the state will begin an environmental review to assess the conversion of the full Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties to Interstate 86.”
The New York State Department of Transportation released a statement in connection with the governor’s directive to accelerate the conversion of Route 17 to I-86, which stated: “As Governor Hochul said in the State of the State Address, the state will undertake an environmental review to assess the conversion of the full Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties to Interstate 86. This study will build on the work of the recently completed Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) study and look at alternatives along the 47-mile corridor between Orange and Sullivan counties, including Monticello.”
Michael Fleischer, a consultant with the 17-Forward 86 coalition, said that based on discussions with NYSDOT officials and the department’s aforementioned statement, the environmental review will include the potential addition of a third lane on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties that was included in a recently released Planning and Environmental Linkages (PEL) study by the New York State Department of Transportation. The study released in November 2021 rejected several options to improve congestion on Route 17 and determined a host of others should move forward to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) phase, including the construction of a third lane on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties, upgrades to interchanges on Route 17 in both counties and improvements be undertaken to improve connectivity to transit.
He also noted that the length of time for the environmental review process could be shortened considerably since the PEL study involved a significant amount of work that would have to be performed in the environmental review. Fleischer noted that the environmental review will therefore not be starting from scratch.
The New York State Department of Transportation has stated that the EIS would address the engineering, social, economic and environmental impacts associated with potential corridor alternatives. If the preferred alternative was to construct a third travel lane, the EIS would also include any necessary mitigation actions/strategies.
Maureen Halahan, president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership and co-chair of the17-Forward-86 Coalition, said, “Yesterday afternoon Governor Kathy Hochul conveyed her vision for New York during her powerful State of the State address. During a time when New York’s recovery is most critical, the Governor specifically has a plan for economic development through infrastructure rebuild, shovel ready sites and regional councils that focus on regional growth strategies, including the conversation of Route 17 to Interstate 86.”
Halahan later stated that she believes that the governor’s directive requires the EIS to include a thorough review of the third lane option for Route 17.
The 17-Forward 86 Coalition released a statement on social media in response to the governor’s State of the State Address, stating, “Our 17-Forward-86 Coalition is grateful to Gov. Hochul for making Route 17 a priority for investment and we look forward to working with her administration to make these long-needed upgrades a reality.”
The final report from the New York State Department of Transportation’s Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Study group recommended the state move forward with an environmental review of a General Use Third Lane in each direction on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties that could if built as one major project cost anywhere from $650 million to $1.27 billion. The PEL Study Group also called for a study of interchange upgrades be undertaken at exits in Orange and Sullivan counties and that improvements be made in the region to improve connectivity to existing transit.
The scope of the construction of the General Use Third Lane beginning at Exit 131 in Harriman (Orange County) to Exit 103 (Rapp Road) in Monticello in Sullivan County would determine the cost of the project.
Option 1, which involves using the basic existing footprint of the roadway and shoulders to accommodate a third lane in each direction would cost $385 million to $470 million for the Orange County stretch of roadway and another $265 million to $325 million in Sullivan County.
Under Option 2, which would involve widening the existing roadway to accommodate the third lane expansions in both directions so that most of Route 17 would conform to federal Interstate standards, the costs would escalate. For the Orange County section, the cost would run between $615 million to $750 million, while the Sullivan County component’s cost ranges from $425 million to $520 million.
The PEL Study Group did not recommend one option over the other and also while listing interchanges in Orange and Sullivan counties that could be upgraded, it did not issue any specific recommendations, although it did point out those with the greatest need.
In referencing the need for a General Use Third Lane, the study group stated, “Reconstruction under the General Use Third Lane Alternative would provide the opportunity to address deficiencies in the existing roadway to correct non-standard features and storm-related flooding. High crash locations containing curves and overpasses would benefit from widening shoulders, increasing pavement friction, and increased banking (removal of non-conforming super elevation) under this concept. Increasing the capacity of Route 17 would provide a 24% reduction in congestion related crashes overall, per the Crash Modification Factors Clearinghouse.”
The study indicated the cost of the interchange upgrades in Orange County could run from $135 million to $175 million and in Sullivan County from $43 million to $144 million.
Improvements to Connectivity to Existing Transit projects are projected to cost between $1 million to $1.5 million in Sullivan County and $9 million to $10 million in Orange County.
The study group also recommended moving forward with a No Build scenario, but that was done chiefly because it is a requirement of the National Environmental Policy Review Act (NEPA) process for any proposed Route 17 project. The group also considered the construction of a High Occupancy Vehicle Lane and the addition of Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit but did not recommend going forward on any of those options.
While study group officials have stated at previous virtual public workshops that the full project would likely not move forward all at once due to funding constraints and other factors, the report listed the total project cost involving the construction of the General Use Third Lane, interchange improvements and improvements to connectivity to existing transit projects would run from $529 million to $935 million in Orange County and $309 million to $665.5 million in Sullivan County.
While the Route 17 expansion may qualify for some federal funding, it is likely that the overall project would be done in phases and based on the report it appears work would begin on a stretch of the roadway in Orange County.
“As previously noted, NYSDOT will determine the logical termini and specific project limits of the General Use Third Lane Alternative in the future, following careful consideration of existing and projected traffic congestion, public and agency input, and available funding,” the report stated. “Based on this Route 17 PEL Study, the area of greatest need appears to be between Exits 120 (NY Route 211 – Wallkill) and 131 (Woodbury), a distance of approximately 22 miles, and the segment of the corridor that is projected to experience the highest levels of congestion in the year 2055.”
Advocates for the Route 17 expansion were heartened to learn that the project could receive funding from the $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill recently signed into law by President Biden when U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-CD18) listed the Route 17 project at a press conference in Newburgh on Nov. 8 as one that could qualify for federal funding. He referenced the Infrastructure Act’s $13.5 billion that will go directly to New York State’s highways and bridges, and said that revamping Route 17 through Orange County is “a much-needed project that has been stalled for too long.”
“Route 17 can receive funding through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act,” a spokesman for Rep. Maloney said. “However, the law does not directly earmark funds to specific projects. It will be up to New York State to determine how to dedicate their funds from this legislation to projects like Route 17. However, as he has throughout the legislative process drafting the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Rep. Maloney will continue to fight for funding for critical projects and priorities here in the Hudson Valley.”