Guest Viewpoint

Route 17 Upgrade Will Enhance Safety, Mobility, Create Meaningful Jobs to Boost the Economy

By DANIEL ORTEGA – March 2024

When faced with challenges, leaders act. Problems require solutions, and if ignored, problems often become worse over time. A present-day case in point is Route 17, the major corridor in the Hudson Valley.

Efforts are underway to improve mobility on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties by adding a third lane east and west, and making other necessary upgrades to convert the corridor to Interstate 86. Enhancing safety on Route 17 is of paramount importance, and we cannot afford further delays to this long-overdue project. It’s time to set the record straight and move this critical project forward.

The New York State Department of Transportation hosted two public information sessions on the Route 17 enhancement project in mid January. 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.

Daniel Ortega

The need for an additional travel lane has been confirmed by two separate NYSDOT studies and has bipartisan support at all levels of government. The project has long been supported by U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Gov. Kathy Hochul last year announced the start of an environmental review of Route 17—a key step forward to convert the corridor to Interstate 86. The launch of the study follows the inclusion of up to $1 billion in the state budget to accelerate the conversion—funding for which our 17-Forward-86 Coalition had been advocating.

17-Forward-86 members are vocal proponents of this project. Yes, we are stakeholders—we live here, work here and travel on Route 17. The stakes are high. Why is this project so important? First and foremost is safety. An additional lane will improve mobility and provide critical access for first responders—police, fire and ambulance services. It will make the corridor safer for all of us traveling on it each and every day, whether to the office, or medical appointments, or to take our children to school or the baseball field.

An additional lane will also alleviate traffic, particularly on weekends, to our many tourist destinations. It will help local businesses that depend on deliveries and transports by allowing vehicles to move more efficiently, thus reducing traffic jams. Less traffic means less idling—and fewer emissions polluting our environment.

Widening Route 17 will not draw more traffic—it will facilitate the existing level moving through the area more expeditiously. It’s common sense. In the fall of 2014, the New Jersey Turnpike opened its much anticipated newly-widened highway in central New Jersey. The region, similar to the Hudson Valley, had seen an increase in population and jobs amid expansions from companies in the logistics and distribution sectors. Similar to Route 17, the roadway had reached capacity resulting in a chronically congested 35-mile stretch. The turnpike expansion resulted in reduced traffic and idling emissions, fewer accidents and fatalities, and renewed economic development opportunities.

If we build another lane, will more people come? The fact is, they’re already here. Our region has seen a dramatic rise in population, fueled in part by the Covid-19 pandemic. Orange County has the fourth-fastest growing population in the state, increasing at a rate of more than 9% between 2010 and 2023. Census data shows Sullivan County as one of the fastest-growing counties in the state. Many residents commute on Route 17. Tourism is booming, as well. Some 6 million people visit Orange County alone each year—Legoland itself draws more than 1 million. The Sullivan Catskills draws upward of 4 million visitors. They travel along Route 17.

Route 17 reaches beyond Orange and Sullivan counties. It is a key transportation corridor in New York State and a primary link for commercial and noncommercial traffic between New York City, Northern New Jersey, Pennsylvania and regions within our state (Hudson Valley, Catskills and the Southern Tier). In addition to interstate transportation, Route 17 serves as an intrastate transportation corridor for commuters and the movement of goods and services. It also is the main corridor for students traveling to institutions of higher learning, such as Cornell, Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester Institute of Technology, and all of the larger SUNY schools in that region.

Investment in public transportation is an important part of the long-term sustainability for our region, and a one-seat ride into midtown Manhattan from Port Jervis or Middletown should be part of that plan. However, we also know vehicles—cars and trucks, electric or internal combustion—will continue to be part of our everyday lives. We cannot ignore facts.

The Route 17 enhancement project also will go a long way toward the sustainability of our communities and local economies. Infrastructure upgrades are investments in our future. It has been proved—over the course of a century of American life and economic growth—that each $1 billion invested in infrastructure yields thousands of direct jobs and a multiplier of that in indirect jobs. The construction phase of the Route 17 project will create upward of 500 direct jobs, employing local labor. Contractors, suppliers and related industries will also benefit from an increased demand for materials and services. Consider the $4-billion Gov. Mario M. Cuomo Bridge, which generated more than 6,600 living-wage jobs and tens of thousands of indirect jobs in the region.

The numbers speak for themselves. Our region is growing and we must ensure our infrastructure can safely handle the current and future capacity. Enhancing mobility on Route 17 is the responsible thing to do for our residents, visitors, environment and region.

About the author: Daniel Ortega, the Community Affairs Chief for Engineers Labor-Employer Cooperative Local 825, is a founding member of 17-Forward-86, which is the broad-based coalition of industry, trade and civic representatives who share a common vision for expanding the capacity of Route 17 to ensure the safety and economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills. To learn more, visit The Construction Industry Council of Westchester & Hudson Valley, Inc., is a founding member of the 17-Forward-86 coalition.

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