Route 17 Third Lane Project Could Cost as Much as $1 Billion

John Jordan | September 20, 2021

POUGHKEEPSIE—The cost of adding a third lane on a 47-mile stretch of Route 17 from Harriman to Monticello in each direction is now being estimated at anywhere from $525 million to as high as $1.04 billion, depending on the scope of the improvements to be undertaken.

The latest project cost estimates were revealed at the third public workshop of the New York State Department of Transportation’s Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Study group held virtually on Sept. 14. A final report that will include recommendations to move forward on the project is expected to be released at the end of next month.

NYSDOT officials and study consultants who authored the Route 17 Draft PEL Study have initially recommended moving forward with four alternatives: No Build, which is required for any future project-level National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review within the Route 17 corridor; General Use Third Lane Alternatives; Interchange (Improvement) Alternatives and Alternatives to Improve Connectivity to Mass Transit.

The PEL Study Group did not recommend moving forward on a High Occupancy Vehicle Lane, Light Rail and Bus Rapid Transit alternatives. The report included in-depth traffic analysis that identified current and projected traffic choke points as well as environmental impacts.

Mark Tiano, PE, NYSDOT Project Manager for the Route 17 PEL study, acknowledged that if the Route 17 project were to advance as a “mega project” that the cost could run as high as $1 billion. In the question and answer session of the hearing, Mr. Tiano said that the PEL Study group has looked at the entire corridor and considered any limit or reduction in the length of the project.

Consultant Rebecca Novak, civil department manager at WSP USA’s office in Valhalla, said, “If the entire thing (adding a third lane) was set as a major project to go out tomorrow based on our estimate, which of course it is not, then the total would be about $1 billion. But, we are just trying to identify the range of costs for the range of alternatives and it is going to be progressed in smaller pieces to meet the demand of future traffic and as the budget allows.”

She noted that the final PEL report that is expected to be released at the end of October will look to prioritize projects to be included in future NYSDOT capital plans.

The PEL study offered two alternatives for the General Use Third Lane, a less expensive Option 1 that would cost between $12 million to $16 million per mile and cost $310 million to $420 million for work on the roadway’s length in Orange County and $215 million to $290 million from the Sullivan County line to Monticello—putting the total project cost range between $525 million to $710 million.

The more-costly Third Lane Option 2 would cost between $16 million to $20 million per mile to complete and would cost $420 million to $720 million in Orange County and $290 million to $320 million in Sullivan County, putting the total cost range between $710 million to $1.04 billion.

The NYSDOT PEL Study also lays out a host of interchange improvements in both Orange and Sullivan counties that run the gamut in cost from approximately $1 million to as high as $43 million each. The cost ranges for all of the interchange improvements in Orange County are between $120 million to $150 million, while the projects outlined in Sullivan County came in between $40 million to $70 million.

The need for a third lane on Route 17 has been fueled by development all along the corridor. The report noted, “It is projected that traffic congestion on Route 17 will worsen over the near-term and long-term planning horizons as a consequence of projected population growth and development within the corridor.”

While growth rates have declined from their peak in recent years, it is estimated that the population of Orange County will reach 521,000 by the end of 2050, an increase of roughly 145,000 over current levels. “Congestion is also anticipated to worsen in the future as a consequence of new development in both Orange and Sullivan counties, including the Center for Discovery expansion, the Amy’s Kitchen factory and warehouse, the Yidel Weiss warehouse, the Presidential Container Group manufacturing expansion, the Medline warehouse relocation and expansion, the Woodbury Common Premium Outlets expansion, and several other potential retail, hotel, and warehouse projects in various stages of development,” the report stated.

A coalition of business and civic organizations called 17-Forward-86 has been advocating for NYSDOT to approve and secure funding for a third lane on Route 17 in both directions in Orange and Sullivan counties to accommodate the significant economic growth in the region.

The group has lobbied federal and state lawmakers to include funding for the Route 17 expansion in the massive infrastructure bill now being debated in Congress with the belief that the Route 17 third project would come in at approximately $500 million.

John T. Cooney, Jr., executive Director of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc., said in reaction to the higher cost estimates for the Route 17 expansion, “As with all major regional infrastructure initiatives to improve our public facilities, total project cost is based on many factors and always subject to the construction market at hand. All price estimates to date for the Route 17 improvement project have come from federal and state research reports and not the 17-Forward-86 coalition.” CIC is a Founding Member of the 17-Forward-86 Coalition.

He continued, “The PEL study (planning and environment linkages) is updating cost estimates from NYSDOT’s 2013 corridor study, using revised traffic and economic data—including supply-chain shortages and material cost increases—and other measures to address the corridor’s needs. It’s also important to note that the updated costs indicate the third lane ‘could’ be built through Orange and Sullivan counties for a little over $500 million.”

Cooney said that while major cost increases are never easily palatable, the concept of adding a third lane is a project that has lingered since 1998. “We cannot ignore all the benefits this project will bring to the Hudson Valley. Beyond safety, enhanced mobility, less congestion and air-quality improvements—there is the powerful economic multiplier effect that shows the entire region benefiting from the project by as much as five times the project’s actual price tag,” he said.

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 final 2013 reported recommend: 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.

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth