My turn

Widening Route 17 Is crucial to the Hudson Valley’s economic viability

01 Nov 2019 | 01:15

Doing business in New York is tough, and at every turn we encounter another barrier. Taxes, health care premiums, housing – you name it, the costs are on the rise. Mix in regulations and other restrictions, and it’s understandable why some companies choose to locate elsewhere.

Yet, here in the Hudson Valley we’re seeing more growth and investment. People are willing to pay the price to live, work and play here because our region is unique.

The Hudson Valley is second to none, with an innovative workforce; exceptional schools, universities and health care facilities; the finest and bravest first responders; an unparalleled quality-of-life; and an abundance of cultural and historic attractions.

With this growth, however, comes another barrier. Mobility. More jobs and more visitors mean more traffic on the Route 17 corridor, which is already over capacity. Our coalition – 17-Forward-86 – represents more than 200 members who support widening Route 17 in Sullivan and Orange counties.

We’re seeking $500 million from New York State to add a third lane north and south on Route 17 to alleviate the chokehold and enable future designation as Interstate 86 in the region. Upgrading Route 17 to Interstate 86 stands to generate $82 million in additional state sales tax revenue for the state.

A 2013 Transportation Corridor Study found that congestion on Route 17 will worsen over time and development in the region necessitates the additional lane. The state Department of Transportation recently selected the engineering firm WSP to conduct a new study of traffic conditions on the corridor. This will lay the technical groundwork to get the project moving. And, we’re hopeful it will put us in a position to secure funding in the DOT’s multi-year capital plan, expected to begin in March 2020, to start construction.

We need to move forward.

In Sullivan County, the continued growth of tourism is steadily increasing traffic. Our county typically receives 4 million visitors annually, which was expected to increase to 8 million by the end of 2020. This year, we’re projecting to hit 7 million – putting us ahead of expectations. And, in 2018 alone, we took in $550 million in travel spending. We’ve seen the construction of major tourist attractions, such as The Resorts World Catskills casino and Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark.

Orange County, too, is experiencing a boom in activity. In Goshen, Amy’s Kitchen is building a plant to process its frozen organic meals and employ 600 people, and Legoland New York plans to open on July 4, 2020.

Let’s keep in mind some of these developments weren’t even proposed at the time of the 2013 transportation study.

Our long-term economic health depends on the quality of our infrastructure.

Expanding Route 17 is crucial to that. We have an important choice to make. Invest now in our region’s future or risk driving away our businesses, colleagues and neighbors who are fed up with the gridlock.

That’s a cost none of us can afford.

Marc Baez is President and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership and Co-Chair of 17-Forward-86. To learn more, visit www.17Forward86.org.