Orange County Partnership - News

  • A study on the possible construction of a third lane on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties should be finalized by this October.

NYSDOT Study Estimates Route 17 Expansion Cost Between $245 Million to $1 Billion

By John Jordan


Editor’s Note: This article originally was published in the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors newspaper Real Estate In-Depth.


An ongoing study on the costs of improvements to Route 17, including the possible construction of a third lane in both the eastbound and westbound directions could cost anywhere from as little as $245 million to as much as $1 billion, depending upon the scope of the project.


Members of the New York State Department of Transportation’s Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Study group hosted a virtual workshop on Thursday, June 3 to provide the public an update on the study’s progress and improvements being considered for the vital section of roadway in Orange and Sullivan counties. The program was hosted by Mark Tiano, PE, NYSDOT Project Manager for the Route 17 PEL study, and also featured officials with consulting firm WSP USA that covered a host of topics including the estimated cost of various third lane build scenarios under consideration; possible transit enhancements, including the construction of new park and ride facilities, and a host of interchange improvements in Sullivan and Orange counties that could be undertaken if and when funding is available.


Rebecca Novak, civil department manager at WSP USA’s office in Valhalla, detailed the two major third lane build options. If the study recommends the construction of a third lane, the least expensive option would add a third lane in the existing roadway footprint for a stretch of 20 miles from the I-87 connector in Harriman to the Route 211 exit (Exit 120) that would cost an estimated $245 million to $315 million. To broaden the scope of the project to run a stretch of 45 miles extending the third lane to Route 17B (Exit 104) in Monticello would raise the cost of that option to between $550 million to $710 million. This option would have low to moderate impacts on existing bridges, minor environmental impacts and moderate pavement needs, but would also have non-standard left shoulders for the full length of the respective third lane expansions.


Novak explained that a second option would involve widening the existing roadway to accommodate the third lane expansions in both directions. The estimated cost of this option for a third lane covering 20 miles from Southern Orange County to Middletown would run between $350 million to $450 million. The project cost for the 45-mile stretch from Southern Orange County to Monticello would run between $790 million to $1 billion.


Under this option, it is believed the impact to existing bridges would be moderate, would involve minor pavement maintenance needs and would only have left shoulders at existing bridge piers termed as non-standard. She noted that the environmental impacts of this more expansive third lane scenario would be moderate.


The study group has not made any decisions on third lane build option preference. The group has also considered no-build as well as the construction of a High Occupancy Vehicle Lane and infrastructure upgrades as options. The study group has ruled out the No Build option, while it believes that the HOV would accomplish some of the project goals and that upgrades to interchanges would fall in line with the project’s goals and objectives.


It should be noted that supporters for the addition of a third lane on Route 17, including the 17-Forward 86 coalition, have estimated the project cost at approximately $500 million. Project advocates have expressed hope that the project could be funded under the massive infrastructure bill being discussed in Washington, DC between the Biden administration and Democratic and Republican members of Congress.


The presentation also included traffic data from 2018 which showed significant traffic issues mainly by the Harriman, Central Valley and Monroe exits as well as in Goshen and Middletown. Several participants noted that the traffic data for an average Friday evening needs to be updated due to a host of issues, including the impending opening of LEGOLAND New York as well as the influx of new residents to Sullivan County by New York City residents fleeing the city during the coronavirus pandemic.


Katie Craig, PE, PTOE, traffic engineering & ITS Manager at WSP USA, in projecting the roadway’s needs by 2055, said, “So, overall the picture we are trying to paint here for you is that what we see during this Friday evening time period in 2055 is that most of Orange County is really going to be operating under Level of Service F and stop-and-go conditions, with small pockets of stable (traffic flow), but mainly stop-and-go conditions.”


Marc Baez, director of economic development for Sullivan County, noted that the DOT figures were compiled from May and said that every June and for the rest of the summer the population of the county increases sharply from approximately 78,000 to well in excess of 300,000.


Bill Gorton, senior manager for transportation services for WSP USA, said that the traffic data will be updated prior to the release of the draft study in September. Gorton is a former Director of Region 8 (Hudson Valley) for the New York State Department of Transportation.


Baez, who is co-chair of the 17-Forward-86 Coalition., said of the workshop, “It is encouraging that efforts to widen the Route 17 corridor are moving forward and the PEL study is a critical step in this process. The message from Washington is that infrastructure investment is a priority, with a focus on transformative projects that have significant local support. The Route 17 improvements are consistent with those objectives. This is an opportunity for us all to focus on safety and sustainability, as we strive to continue to ensure economic prosperity for our region.”


17-Forward-86 was established in August 2018 by a dedicated group of advocates who support the widening of Route 17. The coalition comprises more than 200 members of economic development groups, construction trades, tourism groups and energy companies who share a common vision for expanding the capacity of Route 17 to strengthen the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills.


The June 3rd workshop was the second of a planned three public workshops. The Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) Study group will be working on a draft scoping report that will be released at its next public workshop scheduled for Sept. 14. The group hopes to close out the study by the end of October 2021.


A total of 132 community and business leaders from the Hudson Valley zoomed in March 18 for a presentation by the New York State Department of Transportation on the status of a Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) study of the Route 17 corridor in Orange and Sullivan counties.


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 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.