GOSHEN-Orange County Executive Edward Diana believes a third traffic lane on Route 6/17 through Orange County is vital, regardless of whether casinos open in Sullivan. Diana was scheduled to speak Thursday at a public hearing in Monticello held by the New York State Assembly, according to his spokesman, Steve Gross. In his address to the assembly, a copy of which was furnished to The Photo News, Diana cited research that shows some 80 percent of the people traveling to the new casinos would use Route 17. "A recent study done by the county Planning Department estimated that one casino would bring an additional 12,000 daily trips on our roads. Five casinos will only compound this issue," Diana said. "A third lane is not an option but a necessity to preventing a traffic nightmare." In addition to the traffic congestion casinos would cause, the increased traffic would add to air pollution, and "clean air is imperative to the health of our citizens and the health of our economy," Diana said. "This is something we cannot just take for granted." Diana, who is standing for reelection this November, also cited the additional strain on emergency services an increase in traffic on Route 17 would cause. Orange County police and fire departments would be obliged to respond in case of accidents on the road. A week ago Friday, Diana attended a press conference held by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, whose district includes Ulster County and northern Orange County, and U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who argued that federal funding and proposed casinos in Sullivan County could finance a third traffic lane on the Quickway through Orange and Sullivan counties. Such a project could cost as much as $900 million. "Governor Pataki committed seven years ago to upgrade Route 17 to interstate standards," said Jeff Lieberson, a Hinchey spokesman. "That still hasn't been done." Signs along Route 17 refer to the road as "Future 86," a reference to the Interstate designation it would receive if it met interstate highway standards. While work has been done to upgrade some of the exits and bridges, the highway does not qualify as an interstate. The improvements won't help much to handle the additional traffic that could result if Pataki's plan to authorize five casinos in the Catskills to be run by Indian tribes comes to pass. Lieberson noted that in the last round of federal highway funding, New York got about $6 billion. That was six years ago, and the highway funding bill is coming up for reauthorization. New York could get as much as $8 billion to $10 billion, he said. Pataki appears committed to approving casinos in the Catskills, he added, and this will place an additional strain on an already crowded road. "Now is the time to go ahead and upgrade Route 17," Lieberson said. "(Hinchey) believes that casinos should contribute funding to the upgrade as well. It's fair to ask for that, because the presence of casinos will add millions of people to the road." According to information on Schumer's Web site, the senator noted that "traffic on Route 17 is bad enough now, and casinos would only increase the bottleneck. The very least that can be done is allocate some of the money made from the casinos to pay for the widening of Route 17. This is one of the most important issues facing the community as it debates whether or not to accept casinos." Orange County residents who attended a public meeting last month to express their concerns about casinos overwhelmingly cited the increased traffic in the Route 17 corridor as a major cause of concern. However, several said that the additional air pollution that tens of thousands of additional cars would produce is a more serious problem than the traffic delays. Peter Graves, a spokesman for the state Highway Department, said a good deal of work has already been done to upgrade Route 17. About $43 million worth of work has been completed and about $85 million is underway, including an upgrade of Exits 122 in Goshen and recently completed upgrade of Exit 126 in Chester. Several bridges have also been replaced.. More work is in the planning and design stages, Graves said. The question of an additional lane is being evaluated. That is, it is not definitely scheduled, but has not been ruled out. Transportation Commissioner Joseph H. Boardman testified before the New York State Senate that alternatives to automobile access to the casinos are being studied. He specified rail access studies now underway and potential air access via Sullivan County Airport. He also discussed the improvements mentioned by Graves.