Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Lawmakers hear need for 'Rooftop Highway'

Gazette staff writers

A proposed “Rooftop Highway” would run from Watertown to Plattsburgh in northern New York, mirroring U.S. Route 11 and connecting I-81 to I-87. Photo by Google.
February 22, 2010
A northern New York transportation advocacy group, legislators and business owners are asking for the creation of a highway that would connect Watertown to Plattsburgh and create a high-speed route for trucks and tourists between Interstates 81 and 87 north of the Adirondack Park.

But according to Jennifer Post, spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation, given the current economy and the recommendations of the 2008 Northern Tier Expressway: Route 11 Corridor Study — a study of the benefits of improving Route 11 rather than building a new highway — "there are no plans to develop multi-lane highway between Watertown and Plattsburg. However, preliminary scoping has been done so that projects may be developed and constructed along the corridor to address localized congestion, said Post.

The Northern Corridor Transportation Group and local manufacturers expressed to the Assembly Minority Manufacturing Task Force on Feb. 12 the need to construct a modern, four-lane, limited-access expressway in the north country.

The proposed interstate would span five counties: Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Clinton, Franklin and Lewis. Right now the only northern highways are U.S. 11 and State Route 37 — both are two-lane roads.

Assemblywoman Jane Corwin, R-Clarence, the Minority Manufacturing Task Force Chair, said in an interview that "Manufacturers who spoke with us expressed trouble with distribution." She said creation of the expressway makes sense, but its creation really comes down to money.

Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, R-Gouverneur, and Assemblyman William Barclay, R-Pulaski, both support the project; with Scozzafava being a committed supporter of the interstate for more than a year.

According to Jason A. Clark, the director of the Northern Corridor Transportation Group, the estimated cost of the project is $4 billion, but 88 percent of the cost is expected to come from federal money.

Clark said he hopes the Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration will proceed with a tiered environmental review process. Tier one would be a macro environmental investigation along the planned route and tier two would be a micro investigation to determine the exact route, about a 30-month process. He also said that according to a Congressional Government Accountability report, the four lane highway project could potentially create 27,000 upstate jobs.

"There is unparalleled economic potential for the state of New York if it was able to connect the five upstate border crossings and the ports in Oswego and Ogdensburg to a true four-lane, east-west interstate highway that would link the region to the rest of the federal interstate system," said Clark.

According to Clark, the highway would expand the Canadian/New York state trade corridor. He said one-third of the manufacturing jobs lost in the last five years in the north country have been lost in the Massena area. He also hopes that $3 billion dollars allocated for infrastructure improvements in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will be used to fund the project.

The project has been called the Rooftop Highway or Northern Tier Expressway, with the name now proposed by its advocates as Interstate 98. State lawmakers from both parties that represent upstate New York have shown support for creating the highway to stimulate the economy in Northern New York and create jobs.

Drew Mangione, communications director for Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine, D-Cape Vincent, said that "Sen. Aubertine is working hard with Clark and others to see what can be done to make the interstate a reality." If approved, the highway would run through two counties in Aubertine's district – Jefferson and St. Lawrence.

Read more HERE from the Legislative Gazzette.

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