By Rachel Ettlinger
TOWN OF WALLKILL – Residents, lawmakers and community stakeholders are tired of waiting for action on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties. They said Wednesday they want to “add a third lane to ease the pain.”
As the region braces for what is likely to be a busier-than-ever tourism season, with the expected opening of Legoland in Goshen, the community wants to see improvements made, and a third lane added in both directions, from exit 103 in Monticello through 131 in Harriman. The coalition, 17-Forward-86, is looking to, after decades of discussion, make this a reality in the state’s budget this year.
“Every year we kick this down the road it gets more expensive,” Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus said of the project, which, in 2013, was estimated to cost about $500 million.
During a breakfast at the West Hills Country Club in the Town of Wallkill, 17-Forward-86 Director Michael Lawler moderated a panel of multiple community stakeholders who touched on the public safety, local economy and quality of life issues that are at the forefront.
Some attendees noted that members of the Hasidic community should be welcomed to conversations like these because their population is one that is growing rapidly in the two counties.
As soon as April, the state Department of Transportation will begin an environmental and engineering study to analyze raising Route 17 to federal interstate standards for size and safety, coalition leaders said. It would take between 12 and 18 months.
Getting the message out to people about this initiative is key, said Town of Wallkill Commissioner of Public Works Louis Ingrassia. Otherwise the decades-long wait will continue.
“It’s very frustrating,” Ingrassia said.
Investing in mass transit like buses and trains would help ease the burden, especially on Friday and Sunday nights as weekenders come and go, Lawler said.
“But it’s really gotten beyond that,” Lawler said.