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  • The rally organized by the 17-Forward-86 coalition was held at the Galleria at Crystal Run in the Town of Wallkill, NY.

Hudson Valley Business, Industry Leaders Rally for Route 17 Expansion Project Funding

By John Jordan

Business, political and labor leaders at a rally for the expansion of Route 17 seemed to all agree that the project is nearing the finish line but there is still work to do. In fact, one local State Senator said that it is no longer a question of if this long-delayed and much needed project will be undertaken, but when ground will be broken. 

Near a busy overpass for Route 17, state and local government leaders joined business and building trades representatives to press New York State to move forward with necessary environmental studies that will lead to what they say is the long-overdue expansion of Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties. 

The March 10th rally staged in a parking lot at the Galleria at Crystal Run in the Town of Wallkill was held by the 17-Forward-86 Coalition, which is advocating for an additional lane in both directions as well as interchange upgrades from Southern Orange County to Monticello. 

The final report from the New York State Department of Transportation’s Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Study group released in November 2021 recommended 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.

Maureen Halahan, president of the Orange County Partnership and 17-Forward-86 co-chair, noted that Gov. Kathy Hochul identified the Route 17 expansion as a priority for her administration in her State of the State message earlier this year. She said the rally’s goal was to press New York State leadership to allocate the funding necessary to construct an additional lane on Route 17 and make other much-needed upgrades to the corridor as part of the new five-year New York State Department of Transportation capital plan.

“This long-overdue project is in all of our best interests. It’s about safety, sustainability, protecting our environment and preparing for our future. Widening and upgrading the Route 17 corridor will make our roads safer and provide better access for first responders,” Halahan said. “It will ease conditions for all motorists, reducing harmful emissions from idling vehicles. This project will create good-paying jobs, which will help restore a sense of stability in our communities and give local economies a much-needed boost.”

John Cooney, Jr., executive director of the Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc., and a member of the 17-Forward-86 Coalition, also noted the pressing need for Route 17 upgrades and urged members of the New York State Assembly, the New York State Senate and Gov. Hochul to include funding for the project in the five-year New York State Department of Transportation capital plan. 

He added that the governor’s overall proposed NYSDOT Five-Year Capital Plan needs to be increased by $10 billion from $32.8 billion to $42.8 billion so that signature projects like Route 17-I-86 can begin while also increasing the investment that will go a long way to improving the existing conditions of all the roads and bridges in New York State.

“New York State has never, in its history, had a better opportunity to increase the amount of money to spend on its roads and bridges and specifically on Route 17,” Cooney said. “The federal government has given New York State a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to leverage its dollars and truly make improvements in our infrastructure. Let’s seize it.”

In a clear act of bipartisan support for the project, Democratic State Senator James Skoufis and Republican Senator Mike Martucci stood side-by-side expressing the urgent need for the Route 17 project to proceed. 

Sen. Skoufis noted that the campaign for upgrades to Route 17 and its conversion to federal Interstate-86 has been a long one, noting the I-86 signs on the roadway have begun to rust.

“The good news is we are almost at the finish line here,” he said. “Because of the work we have all done, I can tell you, as a matter of fact, and the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation who I spoke with two weeks ago will tell you, that this project getting done is no longer a matter of if, it is just a matter of when.”

Sen. Martucci, said this long-stalled project should proceed now there is federal money available. “Our time is now. The groundwork has been laid and the men and women of labor who stand behind us today are ready to get this done with us,” he said. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to finally address an issue that impacts our quality of life, our economic development and really everything here in the Hudson Valley. Let's get this done.”

At the rally, a host of other business, political and organized labor leaders also called for the state to complete the studies and fund the expansion project for Route 17. Among the speakers included: Sharon Soons, Executive Director of Vision Hudson Valley; David Yannetta of Local 825, International Union of Operating Engineers; Orange County Undersheriff Ken Jones; Orange County Deputy Executive Harold Porr; Town of Thompson Supervisor William J. Rieber, Jr. and Town of Wallkill Supervisor George Serrano.

If the state moves forward with the expansion project, 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.

Not included in those project numbers are potential interchange upgrades in Orange County, which could run from $135 million to $175 million and in Sullivan County from $43 million to $144 million.

Recommended 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.

At the rally, 17-Forward-86 Coalition co-chair Marc Baez, President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership, urged the state to act now and make the long-overdue upgrades to Route 17.

“There are thousands of stakeholders committed to seeing this project through,” Baez said. “We’re at the 30-yard line. This budget must get us into the end zone or we’ll be stuck on the 30-yard line for at least another five years. That extra $5 billion in federal funding earmarked for New York State positions us to move forward—now. Let’s run with it.”

The 17-Forward 86 Coalition was established in August 2018 by a group of advocates who support the widening of Route 17 and now comprises more than 200 members of economic development groups, construction trades, environmental stewardship, tourism groups, business, health care and energy companies.