Exclusive: NYSDOT Study Recommends Moving Forward with Third Lane Expansion Project on Route 17
John Jordan | November 23, 2021
POUGHKEEPSIE—The highly anticipated final report from the New York State Department of Transportation’s Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Study group is recommending the state move forward with 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 to complete.
The PEL Study Group is also recommending that 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 stretch, 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.”
The New York State Department of Transportation released a statement in connection with the release of the final PEL study, which stated: “The objectives of the Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) study were to advance preliminary activities related to improving the level of service, meeting current design standards, facilitating public transportation alternatives and addressing the resiliency of the Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties. Recommendations for renewing and modernizing the travel corridor, including construction of a third-travel lane, would need be addressed in a federally required Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). 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.”
The PEL process is being initiated by the NYSDOT in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration. The DOT last year began a scoping and preliminary review process as part of the $5 million PEL study, whose funding was secured through the 2018-2019 state budget.
The PEL study is a follow-up to a NYSDOT study released in May 2013 that examined the corridor between Monticello, Exit 103 (Rapp Road) and Harriman, Exit 131 (New York State Thruway) to help accommodate transportation demands brought about by economic growth in the region and to help accommodate future growth.
The 2013 final report recommended: adding a general use third lane, in each direction, from Interstate 87 in Harriman to just west of Middletown, Orange County; improve key interchanges in Orange and Sullivan counties; provide new and expanded park and ride lots at strategic locations in Orange and Sullivan counties and recommend some provisions for future transit.
The 17-Forward 86 Coalition has lobbied for the state to conduct the PEL study and now with the report completed will be shifting its focus to securing federal and state funding for the expansion project.
Maureen Halahan, President and CEO of the Orange County Partnership in Goshen and co-chair of the 17-Forward-86 Coalition, said, “We thank Governor Hochul, New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Dominguez and the DOT team for finalizing the Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) report for the Route 17 corridor, and Senator Schumer and Congressman Maloney for their continued support. We founded the 17-Forward-86 Coalition with the goal of expanding capacity on Route 17 and our effort to add a third lane across the corridor is nearing success. The PEL will help accelerate the delivery of specific projects to add a third lane along the corridor to ensure continued economic growth and an improved quality of life in our region.”
Marc Baez, President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership and 17-Forward-86 Coalition co-chair, added, “We are so pleased New York State is moving forward with efforts to improve mobility and enhance safety on our roads. As we work toward an economic recovery, the quality of our infrastructure will play a key role in the future of our region and our state. Expanding the Route 17 corridor is crucial to that. We look forward to working with the DOT and the administration on moving through the next phases of the environmental process and securing construction funds in the upcoming DOT capital plan.”