By Maureen Halahan and Marc Baez
During these uncertain times, the people of New York state have benefited from Gov. Cuomo’s leadership and that of our federal, state and local officials while, once again, showing remarkable resilience. So much has happened so quickly, and we applaud our elected representatives for taking decisive action to ensure the safety of our residents and the security of our region.
Our coalition – 17-Forward-86, composed of business, labor, environmental and community leaders – is grateful to our brave and tireless first responders and health care workers, who continue putting themselves at risk to keep us safe. We’re thankful for those behind the scenes – our colleagues in the building and construction trades, public service, education, pharmacies, food and other services – working to maintain a sense of normalcy for the rest of us.
We recognize that more struggles are to come, and are sensitive to the seriousness of the pandemic and cognizant that many unforeseen challenges lie ahead. Our state will reopen, but rebuilding our workforce, businesses and economy will require collective innovation and powerful leadership. Investing in our infrastructure is an essential part of our economic recovery.
17-Forward-86 was established in 2017 with the goal of improving mobility in the region. We now comprise more than 200 members of economic development groups, community organizations, construction trades, tourism groups and energy companies representing thousands of individuals who share a common vision for expanding the capacity of Route 17 to ensure the economic well-being of the Hudson Valley and Sullivan Catskills.
Improving the Route 17 corridor and upgrading other key infrastructure in the region will enhance safety and strengthen our economy. It will improve mobility and provide critical access for first responders and safer routes for all motorists as vehicles once again fill our roads. It will create good-paying jobs, which will help restore a sense of stability in our communities and give local economies a much-needed boost.
One road leads to another and Route 17 is a critical artery in the Hudson Valley, New York State and the region. Traffic has been steadily increasing for decades and even more so in recent years as new businesses have located or expanded here. A host of planned developments will add even more vehicles to the heavily traveled corridor. We need these investments as we reopen for business, so we must ensure our roads can handle the added capacity.
We’re moving in the right direction. Local and state officials have voiced support for widening Route 17. U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has long been a proponent of improving mobility on the corridor.
Last year, the DOT selected an engineering firm to begin a scoping and preliminary review process as part of a $5 million Planning and Environmental Linkage study, laying the groundwork for the widening of Route 17. We had been advocating for $500 million in state and federal funding necessary to see the project through, but right now Gov. Cuomo and our elected officials are, rightly, focused on our safety and getting us past these difficult times.
As New York state prepares to reopen for business, we are confident our leaders will look to infrastructure investment as a key driver of our economic prosperity. No one could have foreseen this – but, together, we will get through it and we continue to prepare for our region’s future. Now, more than ever, we must work together to enhance our safety, improve our quality of life and ensure our economic viability for generations to come.
Maureen Halahan is the president and CEO of the Orange County Partnership in Goshen and co-chair of 17-Forward-86. Marc Baez is the president and CEO of the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development in Monticello and co-chair of 17-Forward-86. To learn more, visit www.17Forward86.org.