In Wednesday’s State of the State speech, Governor Andrew Cuomo seemed to clearly throw his support behind a divided highway Interstate between Watertown and Plattsburgh – known for half a century as the “rooftop highway” and more recently dubbed “I-98″:
In the North Country, the proposed route 98 could reduce travel times and speed up commerce. Let’s see if we can make it a reality. We’ve been talking about it for years. Let’s get DOT to undertake a study and see if we can make this project happen.
But the actual State of the State book that outlines the details of the Governor’s proposals says something very, very different. In fact, it notes that the state Department of Transportation has already studied the “rooftop highway” corridor twice – in 2003 and 2008 – and determined a full-blown Interstate would cost a whopping $6 billion.
What the proposal appears to actually recommend (on pages 53-54) is a study of a bypass between Canton and Potsdam:
The highest traffic in this corridor is in the Canton-Potsdam areas, where improved connections could bolster quality of life and result in economic benefits derived from increased tourism and easier access. The NYS DOT will work to immediately add the environmental study for bypasses for Canton and Potsdam and a connector for the two to the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The results of the study will guide consideration of next steps.
What that last sentence appears to mean is: 1) environmental study for a Canton-Potsdam bypass, and 2) only after that, a “consideration” of what to do with the entire “I-98″ corridor. I called the Governor’s office for clarification, but haven’t gotten a callback yet.
Either way you interpret today’s I-98 mention, you’ll find supporters.
I-98 boosters (including most of the lawmakers in St. Lawrence County) most likely share the enthusiasm voiced by State Senator Patty Ritchie, interpreting Cuomo’s remarks as support for the full-blown Interstate:
The roadway—which would connect I-81 in Watertown to I-87 in Champlain—is seen by many as a development that could not only make travel easier, but also could bring economic growth to the North Country region.
Meanwhile, “rooftop highway” opponents, who call the Interstate idea “a violation”, a waste of money, and potential widespread destruction of land, houses, and trees, cheered the language in the State of the State document. John Casserly, spokesman for YES-11, which supports incremental improvements along the Route 11 corridor rather than an Interstate, says the Canton-Potsdam bypass plan is “exactly what we want to do. There’s so much traffic [between the two towns and in each village],” says Casserly, “something has to be done.”
So which is it? Maybe it’s a politically savvy Governor trying to make everyone happy. More soon on what’s really true.