Did Cuomo mean a rooftop highway or a Canton-Potsdam bypass?

The general sketch of a "rooftop highway" as envisioned in a 2003 report for the Development Authority of the North Country.

The general sketch of a “rooftop highway” as envisioned in a 2003 report for the Development Authority of the North Country.

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

15 Comments on “Did Cuomo mean a rooftop highway or a Canton-Potsdam bypass?”

Leave a Comment
  1. bob says:

    Timely follow up David, good work!

  2. Verplanck says:

    How can anyone say that travel times are excessively long in the north country with a straight face? Has there been traffic studies suggesting as such?

  3. TomL says:

    Travel times are long because distances are long – any new road construction cannot change that fact. Route 11 is a long rural highway with very little traffic except where it passes through the villages. Even in the villages, the traffic is light (in comparison to urban areas in the US and Canada). Village bypasses will make the village centers more pleasant, by reducing truck traffic, and will shave a few minutes of drive time. But there isn’t much credible evidence of a significant time savings on a trip from Watertown to Plattsburgh by construction of a limited access divided highway.

    I have timed my trips from Canton to I 81, and if I am not hitting the villages during the weekday morning-noon-evening 15 minute ‘rush-hours’, the actual time for the trip vs what it would be on an interstate is not much different. Especially if I factor in that it would be necessary to drive a few extra miles to get to an on-ramp.

  4. Mayflower says:

    The studies in 2003 and 2008 are hardly the first examinations of this corridor. Predating the 2003 study by 189 years is a map of 1814, delineating a military route extending from Plattsburgh to French Mills to Sackett’s Harbor . It is almost identical to the map you just posted.

    The University of Richmond has recently digitized Charles O. Paullin’s ‘Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States.’ Check it out: http://dsl.richmond.edu/historicalatlas/162/d/

  5. Call me crazy but I’m not sure it’s the best idea to make it easier for outsiders to bypass downtowns. Seems like people avoiding business districts is the problem, not the solution.

  6. Paul says:

    Now that the construction is winding up in Canton driving through there and Potsdam (I do it a lot in the fall to get to hunting camp) doesn’t take much time at all. In many years on driving through there the only thing that really slowed me down was one ticket (thanks Canton!). I don’t think a billion dollar road project is necessary to alleviate my one ticket?? But if they want to do it I will appreciate getting to camp 20 minutes faster!

  7. Mervel says:

    Canton-Potsdam traffic on 11 is not light, truck traffic is continual and it does cause economic problems particularly for Canton. Potsdam already has a quasi bypass around the village center and we see the difference that has made.

    Incremental change is the way to go Casserly is correct.

    However this is not a regional solution, it is mainly a solution that will help this particular area of one county, it needs to be done. But it will not have wide spread region wide benefits.

  8. Ken Hall says:

    As evidenced by the lack of any efforts to streamline the flow of traffic through Canton, by eliminating on street parking thus providing two additional traffic lanes, during the recent updates to Main Street, I doubt that the “business” community in Canton will favor a traffic bypass which would enable all of those potential customers to never have to lay eyes upon their establishments as they happily bypass Canton and Potsdam.

  9. Paul says:

    Mervel, I have never been in a traffic jam on that road that wasn’t due to some construction project (or maybe and accident). And even that was a minor delay.

  10. Paul says:

    Ken, I think the road seems unnecessary but is there good evidence that people passing through (like me) are any more likely to shop in Canton than someone who is passing around? For example I often buy groceries for camp in Canton on the way through but if there was an interstate I would exit and do the same thing.

  11. Paul: the whole reason they have rest areas on the Northway and Thruway is precisely so you DON’T have to exit the highway. Do local businesses run these areas? Of course not.

    Locals will do what they’ve always done, interstate or not. But the interstates allow… nay, encourage… outsiders to bypass downtowns. Why would you want something that encourages people to avoid your businesses? It doesn’t make sense to me.

  12. “Canton-Potsdam traffic on 11 is not light, truck traffic is continual and it does cause economic problems particularly for Canton.”

    Mervel: care to explain what problems they cause?

    “Potsdam already has a quasi bypass around the village center and we see the difference that has made.”

    I went to college in Potsdam and have been there many times since. Market St. doesn’t look much different, business wise, than it’s always looked.

  13. Mervel says:

    Downtown Potsdam does far better than Canton business wise, they can actually use their downtown for fairs, events festivals.

    Ken the people against the main street widening would certainly be in favor of rerouting truck traffic around main street, not making it easier for them to rumble through day and night as they have now.

    It is highly suspect that the trucks and truck drivers who drive those trucks full of chemicals, waste and many other products are going to stop by for quick bite to eat on main street Canton, which you can barely walk across half of the day.

    Bypasses will work and help for both communities. However as I said, it is not a rooftop highway, which as we all know is a pipe dream anyway. If its not in the national highway bill it is never going to happen, ever.

  14. Mervel: Fair enough. I agree a normal road bypass for trucks doesn’t have a lot of negatives. It’s the interstate bypass I objected to.

  15. Pat Luppens says:

    From a practical point of view bypass roads would obviate the need for trucks to waste fuel by stopping and grinding through the village in lower gears. The only consideration now is how to handle the intersections of the train tracks and the truck routes.

Leave a Reply