Morning Read: Second-guessing the Rooftop Highway-I98

2001 Rooftop Highway Study Map (click to enlarge)

St. Lawrence County is asking local governments around the North Country to chime in with support for a proposed interstate highway that would link Plattsburgh and Watertown, but not everyone is climbing aboard.

This week, town officials in Malone tabled the request, in part because they don’t think funding is available for the project.  This from the Plattsburgh Press-Republican.

Village Board members support the concept of Interstate 98, which has also been known as the “Northern Tier Expressway” and the “Rooftop Highway.”

But they don’t believe there is state or federal funding available to connect Watertown to Rouses Point by a 170-mile roadway that is estimated to cost $3 billion to $4 billion.

The response in Tupper Lake was even more frosty, with town officials arguing that the highway could divert traffic and economic activity away from their community.  This from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

“I do not support that because of businesses,”[town supervisor Roger] Amell said. “Right now, Route 3 is our corridor from Watertown to Plattsburgh.”

He said if more traffic is directed to the northern route, fewer people will use Route 3. He compared it to when the Northway, I-87, was built and businesses along Route 9 lost customers.

Other board members agreed.

“It just diverts traffic,” said Councilman David Tomberlin.

“I definitely want to keep as much activity in our direction as possible,” said Councilwoman Patti Littlefield.

At issue currently is whether $6.3 million in funds set aside for preliminary I-98 work in 2005 should be used for that purpose, or redirected to improve Rt. 11, as state officials have proposed.

On April 4th, the Watertown Daily Times reported that thw village of Massena supported St. Lawrence County’s resolution, urging the Transportation Departmenet to repair Rt. 11 while also beginning work in the Rooftop Highway.

So what do you think?  Is I-98 a good long-term investment for this $6.3 million pot of money, or should it go to more immediate transportation needs?

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30 Comments on “Morning Read: Second-guessing the Rooftop Highway-I98”

  1. tootightmike says:

    The St Lawrence County Legislature apparently didn’t get the memo…or they have too much time on their hands. There are important issues facing our region, that affect the livelihood, lives and health of the people. Unfortunately “the people” just don’t have the influence that one guy with a pocketfull of (borrowed) money can get.

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  2. Jim Bullard says:

    There are issues with traffic in some communities along Rt. 11 that need to be addressed, most notably in Canton and Potsdam. Having all the heavy truck traffic run through the middle of downtown is a problem and those truckers aren’t stopping in downtown establishments to buy a slice of pizza. OTOH I don’t see the overall traffic level being so great that a four lane highway is needed all the way across the North country. Some well planned “truck route” by-passes would serve as well.

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  3. Hank says:

    Jim Bullard says:

    “Having all the heavy truck traffic run through the middle of downtown is a problem and those truckers aren’t stopping in downtown establishments to buy a slice of pizza”

    That comment is right on the money. I find it ridiculous that all those large, noisy, smelly trucks have to travel right down the main street of Canton and Potsdam, with no benefit at all to the towns themselves. Bypasses around both places (and maybe a few others along the highway 11 corridor) are l-o-o-o-ng overdue!

    Spend the money on making these places more livable by removing the through traffic, not on some boondoggle Interstate.

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  4. TomL says:

    Outside of the villages, Route 11 has a daily traffic volume of 5000 – 6000 vehicles, according to NYSDOT data. That amounts to a little over 2 million vehicles /yr. This is paltry, as major highways go.

    If the ‘Rooftop Highway’ were to be a tollway, with a toll of $10 to go from I-81 to I-87, and the cost of construction of the ‘Rooftop’ would be $8 billion (a more reasonable figure than the $4 billion low-ball), it would take (drumroll please)…. 399 years to pay it off.

    Of course an Interstate ‘might’ increase traffic flow. In the implausible event that it quadrupled traffic flow across the region, it would only take a century to pay off the construction.

    That is without paying for the tollbooth workers, maintenance, Tollway Authority administrators etc. etc. etc.

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  5. TomL says:

    The 30 – 60 farms that will be destroyed by the Rooftop Highway have a total value (in terms of infrastructure & machinery) of 11 – 21 million dollars. The (lost) annual sales of these farms will be 3 – 6 million dollars.

    Only about 150,000 residents (mainly in St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties) would potentially benefit by reduced drive times to destinations downstate. The footprint of such an Interstate would be the equivalent of 30 – 60 SLC average sized farms. The cost would be much more than the 4 billion figure (which is a DOT low-ball figure). With the extensive wetland mitigation that would surely be necessary, the construction cost alone would be at least 8 billion, or about $53,000 for each resident within the zone that would benefit by shorter commutes to I-81 or 1-87.

    It will be about 161 miles across the St. Lawrence Valley between the two existing interstates (I 81, I 87). Assume the ‘Rooftop Highway’ speed limit will be 65 mph, and remember that it is limited access, and not right in the villages, so you will have to drive at least 5 – 10 miles on local roads to get to an on ramp. Use Mapquest or your own drive times, and see how much time will really be saved. It’s not much. It will still be faster for passenger vehicles coming to the colleges from Albany, Boston or NYC to go through the Adirondacks and skip the ‘Rooftop’.

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  6. Alan Gregory says:

    New roads and highways almost always mean more sprawl and fragmented wildlife habitat. The natural heritage of the North Country would suffer bigtime with this boondoggle.

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  7. mervel says:

    The 6.3 million could actually improve Rt 11 or at least make an impact. 6.3 million spent on an the interstate fantasy will buy nothing, it would be dumped down the toilet just like all of the other money that has already been spent on endless studies and promotion for an unfunded multi billion dollar effort that exists only in peoples minds. In concept, sure fine go for it, but don’t put money towards this thing when that money could actually make a difference somewhere else.

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  8. Rob B. says:

    Earth to the St. LAwrence County Legislature: All rhetoric aside, the rooftop is dead. Stop wasting time, money, what little brain power you seem to possess on a dead horse, and move on to your job, which is manage what you have effectively and create viable (I repeat…viable) plans for the future of the region. And to the towns that support it…same message. Stop doing what you are told to do by the legislature and think for yourselves. Its no wonder the county is 40 years behind the times…still doing “blank stare-rubber stamp- d’uh” politics.

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  9. Bob Washo says:

    What else can be said that hasn’t already been said on this pipe dream?
    Time to get real and vote in a Legislative body that represents the people
    of this county and not special interests.
    Openly force feeding a narrow minded and unrealistic economic silver bullet?
    What will they try next?
    Great Job Tupper Lake!

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  10. john says:

    The other day, I drove north on I-81. According to the Interstate proponents, the stretch from Exit 48 to Welsley Island should be packed with industry and businesses. It is on a major North- South interstate that ends on the CAnadian side at the 401 highway at a location central to Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal. It is a gateway to I-90 with Interstates diverging in all directions from there. There is Airport access, rail access and Fort Drum. What do you suppose is really there? Farmland, wild land, occasional homes, a gas station of two for the entire 30 mile stretch. This whole interstate rationale is so dishonest. Interstates are good for destination communities, but mostly bad for everything else along the route. What do you see when driving from Lake George to Plattsburgh? How about the miles alongI-81 from Cicero to Watertown? Better yet, go a few miles east and drive up Rt.11. How well served were those communities? The Roof-toppers are desperate to have us get some, “skin in the game’ by spending money on this craziness. Then they will have a self-sustaining rationale going forward that since we’ve put money in we can’t quit now!

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  11. Brian H says:

    Just another effort for the redistribution of wealth amongst the financially elite insiders. None of the highways cited, would seem to be overwhelmed with traffic, why would we need to add the impersonal interstate to help us? Alternative roads around Canton and Potsdam might help relieve congestion; otherwise leave our tax dollars alone! Political parties get their minions to sign on for the donations that come their way, ever wonder why they all follow like migratory Lemmings? If you support us, we’ll throw you a bone. Business as usual!

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  12. john says:

    Incidentally, the 6.3 million has been approved as a consistent use of the money. The money was earmarked to study a northern tier expressway. There is no designation for I-98 interstate in any federal registry of approved OR proposed federal highway projects. How can the money be intended for a concept that was never revisited, officially, after 2002? The 2002 study concluded that upgrading rt.11 to expressway standards, (not interstate standards), was the best option for East-West transportation across the Northern Tier. The “Roof-toppers” have been playing semantic games with those terms for years to make it sound like the ‘Interstate’ option was the recommendation. An ‘Expressway’ is NOT and ‘Interstate’. They are different standards! Go to YESeleven.org and read pages 159-161 of the 2002 study using the link on that website. It’s on the pages 6.4-6.6. It is unambiguous: Rt. 11 Expressway is the most feasible form a local, state and national perspective. The 6.3 million is absolutely consistent with the earmark legislation and I have personally seen the letter form the federal highway transportation officials informing NYS-DOT that no repurposing of the money ios needed to spend it on Rt.11 as that is, ” … an allowable use, consistent with the original authorization.”

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  13. Big Burly says:

    This tug of war with NYS DOT by the funding groups behind some of the elected officials at the SLC legislature needs to be done and over with.
    The NG pipeline to eastern Franklin County will not diminish any opportunity for the Kraft Foods plant in Canton. It will help preserve the economic viability of the largest private sector employer in that County where some of the best NYS cheddar is made, as well as support the reopened dairy plant in N. Lawrence.
    The I-98 project, no matter what routing would be decided would require eminent domain seizure of much farmland and disrupt with no positive result the spectrum of businesses in local communities throughout the North Country that are on the other E-W routes across the top of the State.
    US Route 11 is an economic lifeline for the quality of life enjoyed by tens of thousands of North Country residents. It is long past time that we maintain and upgrade this essential artery.
    Given the state of finances at the federal and state levels of government, it is no longer common sense to push for the I-98 pipedream.

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  14. Ron Shirtz says:

    Those officials supporting both I-98 and improving Route 3 are disingenuous. If they take the slated 6 million DOT wants to spend on improving Route 3 for a environmental impact study for 1-98, it will be robbing Peter to pay Paul. Route 3 will be starved, while after investing so much money into I-98, they will protest they must now go on with I-98 or the investment of so much money will be wasted. Clever.

    Furthermore, if the North Country, one of the poorest rural areas in New York, has not been inundated with tourists before, how will building a super-speed, four lane highway make us any more attractive? It will not.

    I-98 will make us invisible as commercial and private traffic zip past from point A to Point B. Gas and Go’s adjacent to I-98 off-ramps will serve the needs of travelers, and no local business off the highway will benefit.

    I believe those in support of this have a personal interest of being chosen as sub-contractors or selling land, at the expense of the rest of us. Following the money will tell all.

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  15. Roland Van Deusen says:

    Route 11 currently goes right by Fort Drum’s main gate and North & South to five colleges, JCC, SLU, Clarkson, SUNY Potsdam, & SUNY Canton. 19,000 Drum soldiers, recent vets, their families, all have access to Federal educational funds once these horrible wars finally end. These colleges are major area employers. Upgrading 11, unlike “rooftop”, will enhance this access to this economic/educational engine, not destroy a double digit percentage of pristine northwest Adirondack habitat, that I-98 would ruin.
    The only conceivable advantage to “rooftop”, would be the highly profitable selling of private lands in the I-98 right-of-way. Find out who owns these lands, & you’ll know who’se lobbying for the “rooftop” boondaggle.

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  16. Kathy says:

    TomL I loved how you crunched the numbers. Our maple sugar bush happens to be right in the way, too. The tentative path would have me looking at I-98 from my kitchen window.

    But setting aside the personal loss of farmland, it’s so ridiculous to think the rooftop highway will generate more tourism or business. Part of the charm of the Adirondack area is driving through the small towns and getting out of the fast pace. And quicker access to the North Country isn’t going to boost the economy when the residents here don’t have the money to spend anyway.

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  17. Terence says:

    I can’t think of any better way to express what people are already saying here, so I’ll just chime in with the same opinion: the rooftop highway is a bridge to nowhere, and would bring far more damage than benefit. The best use for the money is to improve Rt 11: building a bypass for truck traffic will do wonders for downtown Canton and Potsdam. R. van Deusen is right on the money when he calls the college towns an economic engine for this part of upstate. (I’ve also said for years that there should be some sort of trolley service between Potsdam and Canton to reduce single-occupant traffic on that 10-mile stretch. Imagine what a boon that would be to both towns.)

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  18. Two Cents says:

    Well it seems it’s unanimous……Brian M, forward this whole blog to Malone and the officials.

    Side note- the issue should be a train route directly from Penn Station to SL, then on to Montreal. Pick your favorite stops inbetween…..
    I never felt i was an East to West issue, more a North-South thing

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  19. jeff says:

    If congestion is a problem….

    In Potsdam build an elevated bypass from west of one college to east of the other and hook into 11B, a road with fewer choke points. Minimal footprint and takes out little farmland and probably few houses. Any college land used minimizes loss to farms and taxable houses. The noise and Hank’s pollution will be above and away from the downtown or the schools. Could be a little hairy for the airport. A northern alternative would tie back into 11 and folks would probably want a connector to 56 but that would take more land. Another option would be to straddle the railroad right-of-way from one side of town to the other.

    In Canton peal the traffic off by the old drive in theater, go east and return traffic beyond the railroad overpass also with an elevated highway. Then maybe fewer people would get nervous crossing the existing bridge over the river when a truck rumbles past and bounces the bridge. Ditto on straddling the railroad.

    Then raise the speed limit to 65 from east of Drum to wherever.

    The cheaper route, with the money on the table, would be to remove parking from store street fronts and additional (elevated) parking behind stores .

    I’m sure there are better uses for the money than perpetually hiring engineering firms to do studies. Look at stuff that is known to be ailing, not just annoying for a few.

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  20. Jim H. says:

    Don’t forget the Fort Drum Connector, which will open later this year.
    That will be a four lane shot stright to Rt. 11 (Northern Tier Expressway)
    from I-81

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  21. Jim H. says:

    As a follow up….the Fort Drum Connector has been given the title
    I-781……. so you have I-81 with an Interstate connection to Rt. 11

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  22. MrSandwich says:

    I love the comments here by people who have never been south of watertown or north of plattsburgh in the last ten years or even their lives. How do you go about bypassing Canton without taking land? Or a Potsdam bypass?

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  23. mervel says:

    I am not against the interstate concept. It would bring jobs and an intestate would help the economy it is not really a debate on that fact.

    However what I am against is the continual waste of money time and effort for a program that DID NOT MAKE the 10 year federal highway bill… thus IT IS DEAD. We need to move on and maybe try again in 10 years.

    Making 11 better now would have a positive impact in the near term.

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  24. Jim Bullard says:

    Note to Mr. Sandwich, You don’t build by-passes around Canton & Potsdam but you resolve the major problems of Rt. 11 by taking far less land than an interstate highway all the way from I-81 to I-87. It’s a matter of what’s practical.

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  25. john casserly says:

    Lots of good comments here on this site but unfortunately the rooftoppers will not read them. There is a real need to let the politicians know how you feel about this issue. Take the next step and do something.

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  26. MrSandwich says:

    How do you relieve the congestion on rt. 11 without bypassing Gouverneur, Canton, Potsdam, I’m sure the people in Moira, Brushton, and Bangor won’t mind cars wizzing bye at 65mph, then you have Malone and Chatuegauy (sorry can’t spell). Rt. 11 is great for local traffic and will continue to be. Potdam and Canton have two colleges apiece. THEY ARE DESTINATION CITIES. Potsdam has restricted its own growth.

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  27. MrSandwich says:

    Kraft???????? North Country Dairy is in North Lawrence and I’m pretty sure the plant in Canton is closed. So your getting the best cheddar in NYS from somewhere else.

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  28. TomL says:

    The long-term Route 11 proposed plan is for bypasses around Governeur, Canton, Potsdam, and Malone. If done, they would reduce the drive-times and problems associated with tractor-trailer truck transport in the villages. Such bypasses will require taking land, and will be costly and contentious. However, bypasses would be far less expensive and contentious than a whole new four-lane limited access expressway.

    Bypasses could become a reality. An interstate NEVER will.

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  29. MrSandwich says:

    You make lot of assumptions TomL. By the time you create bypasses around these towns, you might as well connect the bypasses and create a limited access highway. BTW won’t bypassing these towns create “ghost towns”. How will you trap all those customers if they’re going around?? Oh and I forgot Philladelphia and Mexico. 65mph through those towns too I guess.

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  30. Mervel says:

    Bypasses have not hurt Ogdensburg or Massena and Potsdam already has a “quasi” by-pass that lets them do things in their downtown.

    They work and you could pick the villages off one by one. They would also increase business, it is the reason that small businesses for example do better in Potsdam than they do in Canton.

    The rooftop is dead it is not in the federal highway bill, that was the end, it’s over. We can try again in 8 years, but for now we should focus on what makes sense. I wonder if a lot of this is about paying consultants and other firms to do continual studies, they can make a living doing that sort of thing. We need to END all money spent on rooftop highway scams at this point as that is all they are, the project is dead.

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