Route 17 Project’s Environmental Review To Proceed, Funding Committed: Gov.
By JOHN JORDAN – October 27, 2022
ALBANY – For those who were wondering if construction on a third lane on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties would come—sooner or later—the answer is later.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul confirmed on Oct. 5 previous published reports that the study of the $1-billion Route 17 expansion will take another three years to complete and that construction on the expansion project could not begin at least until then.
In an announcement marking what the governor called a “Major Milestone on Transformative Conversion of State Route 17 into Interstate 86,” she stated that the environmental review process on the project has begun. Much later in the announcement, she did state that the New York State Department of Transportation expects to publish a final Environmental Impact Statement for the project in 2025.
In a recent interview, Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus complained that state officials had told him the environmental review would take three years to complete. Mr. Neuhaus’ comments, published in the Labor Update edition of CONSTRUCTION NEWS, said, “I want to see asphalt being put down. I don’t want to see studies. That road has been studied for 60 years.” He later added, “This thing is like ‘Sasquatch,’ it’s like urban folklore that there is going to be a third lane on Route 17,” he said.
Project advocates had hoped that the environmental review would be expedited since the New York State Department of Transportation had conducted an extensive Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL) study on Route 17 and recommended the state move forward with environmental reviews on one of two options to build a third lane from Harriman in Orange County to Monticello in Sullivan County. The PEL report was released in November 2021 and in April 2022, Gov. Hochul announced her commitment to fund up to $1 billion towards the Route 17 expansion project.
The governor announced work has begun on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the upgrade of the roadway to interstate standards, with public outreach and involvement efforts expected to begin in early 2023. The launch of the environmental review process follows the inclusion of up to $1 billion in the recently adopted State Capital plan to accelerate the conversion of the highway to interstate standards and add a third lane.
“As we continue to improve our infrastructure across the Empire State, we are laser-focused on delivering smart projects like this monumental investment in the Mid-Hudson region that maximize impact on regional economies,” Gov. Hochul said. “The Route 17 Draft Environmental Impact Statement kicks off this transformative project, which will enhance tourism, economic competitiveness and quality of life for residents and visitors alike. The Mid-Hudson region is a jewel of New York State and with this project we are helping this region not only meet, but also exceed its future potential.”
The DEIS will involve a full federal NEPA environmental assessment of alternatives starting with those identified as reasonable in the Final PEL Report, looking at issues such as air quality, wetland impacts, and environmental justice. Among the alternatives to be screened will be the inclusion of such features as the addition of a third lane, interchange improvements, bridge replacements and enhanced park-n-ride facilities, including expanded capacity and EV charging.
The governor reported that NYS DOT is also progressing contract plans to complete Stage II of the Exit 122 interchange project in the Town of Wallkill in Orange County to enhance the westbound ramp system.
The project, which will complete the westbound portion of the interchange in the Town of Wallkill and also reconstruct a portion of eastbound State Route 17, is expected to be let in January 2024. The scope of the work includes the widening of the bridge over the Wallkill River to allow for full acceleration/deceleration lanes and the possible addition of a third lane to the highway. NYS DOT said in a prepared statement that the project is still in the design phase and it is premature to discuss costs.
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, “This environmental review process for the Route 17 conversion is an important step forward that will help us improve one of the busiest travel corridors in the state and bolster an economic lifeline for the surrounding communities.”
Orange County Executive Neuhaus in a prepared statement included in the governor’s announcement, stated: “Improving Route 17 is important to the economy of our region, and I look forward to seeing continued state investment in our region’s transportation network. The expansion of State Route 17 into Interstate 86 will allow us to continue to market this economically vital corridor for growth and sustainable development.”
Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek said, “Route 17 has long been the backbone of Sullivan County and our primary connection to the rest of New York State. I thank Governor Hochul and the State Legislature for devoting funds and attention to completing the long-awaited conversion to Interstate 86. We are a growing county in a fast-growing part of New York, and the state’s enormous investment in Route 17 will ensure that growth is not strangled by inadequate infrastructure.”
The PEL report released last November recommended the state move forward with an environmental review of 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. The PEL Study Group also called for a study of 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.
Representatives of the 17-Forward-86 coalition, which has been advocating for the construction of a third lane on Route 17, did not address the three-year environmental review, but instead hailed the news that the environmental review process had begun and that public outreach and involvement efforts are expected to begin in early 2023.
“We thank Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York State for making Route 17 a priority for investment,” said 17-Forward-86 Coalition co-chair Maureen Halahan, President and CEO of the Orange County Partnership. “We’re so encouraged to see the environmental review get underway, which will move this crucial project forward. These much-needed upgrades will improve mobility and safety in our region, and lay the groundwork for building a sustainable future.”
The 17-Forward-86 earlier this year hosted a rally in Middletown with local, state and federal representatives to urge Gov. Hochul and state legislators to commit construction funding as part of the New York State Department of Transportation’s capital plan by using some of the more than $5 billion in additional funding earmarked for New York under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Shortly thereafter, Gov. Hochul announced the state’s commitment of up to $1 billion for the Route 17 expansion project.
“Our region is growing, and we must ensure our roads can handle the added capacity now, and in the future,” said 17-Forward-86 Coalition co-chair Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership. “This is an important step forward in our efforts to enhance mobility on Route 17 and, in turn, improve safety for residents, first responders, businesses, visitors and all of those who travel this corridor. We’re grateful to our thousands of supporters and our elected officials who have been working to make this project a reality.”