Times Herald-Record

By Judy Rife

ALBANY — Right on schedule, the state Department of Transportation has selected a consultant to conduct a new study of increasingly congested traffic conditions on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties.

The DOT’s choice from the companies that responded to the request for proposals it released in May is WSP, the same international consulting engineering behemoth that did a similar study in 2013.

The study will begin this fall and is expected to take 18 months to complete, but a more specific timeline, including the dates for the initial public meetings to solicit ideas, will not be available until the DOT and WSP finalize the details of their contract.

“It’s a critical step in the direction we’ve all been working toward,″ said Marc Baez, president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development. “It will position us to see construction begin, assuming we can get the funds included in the DOT’s next capital plan — and we’re getting very positive response on that possibility.”

Added Maureen Halahan, Baez’s counterpart at the Orange County Partnership: “We’re happy the state is moving forward. We expect to be very involved in the study, participating, supporting, advocating.”

Baez and Halahan are among the leaders of the 17 Forward 86 Coalition that has been lobbying for the addition of a third lane on Route 17 in both directions. The coalition was instrumental in getting state legislators to include up to $5 million in the 2018-19 budget to pay for the new study.

The 2013 study found that Route 17 traffic volumes through 2045 would support construction of a third lane from the New York State Thruway in the Village of Woodbury to the Route 211 and Interstate 84 interchanges in the Town of Wallkill.

Traffic volumes, however, fell off significantly after the four-lane highway passed those interchanges and entered Sullivan County.

The new study, the DOT has said, will build upon the old one, reviewing prior assumptions about the traffic impacts of development as well as revisiting recommendations for improvements to interchanges and other elements to position the highway for eventual designation as Interstate 86.

Both Sullivan and Orange counties have seen the construction of major tourist attractions that hadn’t even been proposed at the time of the 2013 study and that have only heightened concern about traffic.

The Resorts World Catskills casino and the adjacent Kartrite Resort & Indoor Waterpark have opened near Monticello, and Legoland New York expects to open in the Town of Goshen on July 4.

In addition, Amy’s Kitchen is building a plant that will employ 600 people to process its frozen organic meals in Goshen, and Woodbury Common Premium Outlets is contemplating yet another expansion in Central Valley.