Times Herald-Record

“Sooner or later, they’ll have to do it.”

Well, sooner is now later and they still haven’t done it.

Local officials, planners, developers, business consultants and, in fact, anyone who drives on Route 17 will recognize that “sooner or later” quote as the unofficial motto of the state Department of Transportation regarding the addition of another lane of traffic in both directions on the increasingly besieged east-west highway.

In the 1960s, when the road was under construction, from Harriman to far western New York state, where it ultimately meets Pennsylvania, it was affectionately and optimistically referred to as “the Quickway.”

Today, as they say, not so much.

Still, spurred by continuing development, we persist. The volume of traffic flowing upstate, through Orange and Sullivan counties on Fridays and back downstate again on Sundays has done nothing but grow since the state conducted a study in 2013. That study showed projected traffic volume through the year 2045 supported adding a third lane in both directions from Harriman to the intersection with I-84 outside Middletown. Yet nothing’s happened.

Since then, the Resorts World Casino and the Kartright Resort and Indoor Waterpark have opened near Monticello in Sullivan County and this week Merlin Entertainment, owners of Legoland, announced plans to open the theme park in Goshen on July 4 next year.

Tick tock.

There’s another familiar saying: Follow the money. It turns out the addition of these attractions, with state blessing by the way, and increased local promotion of the many other ways to enjoy a weekend, or longer, trip to Orange, Sullivan and Ulster counties, has resulted in significant increases in tourism dollars in all three counties. Tens of thousands more visitors are coming to the area each year and many of them are driving, or trying to, on Route 17. Since tourism is a major component of local economies, one would only expect the numbers to keep growing.

And finally, Orange County’s population has grown since the road was constructed, moving businesses out of downtowns to shopping malls convenient to on-and-off ramps. Local people use the highway, too, especially to commute to New York City.

The estimated cost of adding two lanes between Harriman and Liberty has been put at $500 million, spread over five years. The availability of rights-of-way in the center median and shoulders would keep costs down for lane additions. Improvements will also have to be made to local access roads. But, for perspective, the DOT’s capital spending budget is $29 billion.

One of the arguments the state has used to delay the inevitable is the need to first upgrade Route 17 to federal standards for conversion to Interstate 86. Please. That is an ongoing project, but given the pace of completion of highway projects in general and the absence of any interest in infrastructure in Washington, it would make sense to just go ahead and make the federally required improvements while also widening the road.

No one stuck in weekend traffic will really care what it’s called or whether it’s considered a federal or state road. They’ll want to know why “they” don’t add a lane. Also, whoever nicknamed it “The Quickway?”