Route 17 expansion will improve mobility and enhance safety says coalition
Feature article by Maureen Halahan and Marc Baez –
ORANGE COUNTY – In business, as in life, we can find ourselves in a rut. The way out may be complex or simple, but it always involves change. That’s the key to moving forward; idling holds you back, and doing nothing gets you stuck in reverse.
If the past several years have shown us anything, it’s that we must be nimble and able to pivot quickly. Our region was one of the first in the nation to be gripped by the pandemic and one of the first to bounce back and demonstrate amazing resiliency. The Hudson Valley is open for business. Companies are expanding and investing here, people are relocating here and tourists are coming back in droves. These are positive changes that add to our region’s rich diversity, broaden our talent base and give our communities a much-needed economic boost.
But, while the Hudson Valley has been growing and evolving, our infrastructure has not kept pace. We now have the opportunity to change that – with the funding in place to improve mobility and safety in the region by providing necessary upgrades and an additional travel lane along Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties.
The need for an additional lane on Route 17 has been confirmed by two separate New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) studies and has bipartisan support at all levels of government. The NYSDOT has been very responsive to local concerns and has addressed considerations ranging from safety, the environment, quality-of-life and projected financial costs. Last year saw important milestones in the campaign to upgrade Route 17:
- Up to $1 billion was included in the FY 2023 state budget for an environmental review of the Route 17 project, as well as construction to add another lane and make necessary upgrades.
- Gov. Kathy Hochul said the funding will be used to “accelerate the conversion of the Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties to Interstate 86, fueling transformative levels of economic growth in the region and improving quality of life by alleviating congestion.”
- Gov. Hochul on Oct. 5, 2022 announced the start of the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Route 17 – a key step forward to convert the corridor to Interstate 86.
We are grateful to Gov. Hochul for making Route 17 a priority for investment. Our coalition, 17-Forward-86, is a broad-based group of industry, trade and civic representatives who have been advocating for these critical upgrades for more than five years. We comprise some 200 members of economic development groups, community and civic organizations, construction trades, tourism groups and energy companies representing thousands of individuals who share a common vision for expanding the capacity of Route 17 to ensure the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills.
The Route 17 expansion has widespread support because the benefits are many and far-reaching. An additional lane will improve mobility and provide critical access for first responders – police, fire, ambulance services – and make the route safer for everyone on the roads. It will result in less congestion and thus reduce the environmental damage from vehicular emissions caused by idling motorists. The project itself will create good-paying jobs and restore a sense of stability in our communities.
These improvements are right in line with our state’s progress in encouraging electric vehicle (EV) use. Gov. Hochul has announced a number of charging sites to support more accessible EV travel, including along I-86 and Route 17. However, even as we transition to EV use, traffic problems will remain. A vehicle in traffic, whether EV or gas, is a vehicle stuck in traffic. An additional lane on Route 17 will help all motorists, regardless of what types of vehicles they drive. In fact, the Route 17 enhancement project is about mobility for all, including the thousands of daily bus riders, many of whom use the 15 park-and-ride lots along the corridor.
Let’s face it, our region is growing. Orange County has the fourth-fastest growing population in New York State, increasing at a rate of more than 9% between 2010 and 2023. Census data for 2021 shows Sullivan County as the fastest-growing county in the state.
Tourism, too, is on the rise. Visitors spent $3.8 billion in the Hudson Valley in 2021 and Orange County itself saw a 63 percent spike in spending. The Sullivan Catskills continues to attract upward of 4 million visitors, drawn to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Resorts World Catskills, The Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark, new luxury lodging, endless outdoor experiences and Delaware River adventures. The four counties comprising the Catskills Region saw a 122.9% increase over 2019 and 64.1% growth over 2020, reflecting $1.9 billion in visitor spending. The Sullivan Catskills saw a 122.8% increase over 2019 and 66.3% over 2020, reflecting $710 million in visitor spending.
Our business communities are growing as well. We’ve seen the expansion of Woodbury Common and construction of Legoland, and a host of planned developments are underway. We need these investments and we need the infrastructure to support them.
Now is the time to do it. Several NYSDOT projects have already upgraded sections of Route 17, including reconstruction of the interchange at Exit 131, where Route 17 meets I-87 and Route 32 (Woodbury Common) and reconstruction of exits 122 and 125 (Legoland) to meet interstate standards. In addition, an interchange reconstruction project is underway at Exit 105 A and B in the Town of Thompson. Let’s finish the work and ensure our infrastructure is equipped to handle the added capacity to improve mobility and ensure our safety now and for generations to come.
17-Forward-86 Coalition co-chair Maureen Halahan is President and CEO of the Orange County Partnership; 17-Forward-86 Coalition co-chair Marc Baez is President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership. To learn more, visit www.17Forward86.org.