The New York State Department of Transportation hosted public information sessions on Jan. 17 at the Town of Wallkill Community Center and provided updates on the planned massive Route 17 conversion project to I-86, as well as the impending improvement project at the westbound exit 122 on Route 17.

NYSDOT officials answered questions in separate afternoon and evening sessions for the general public and featured presentations on both the approval process and construction timetables for both the “NYS Route 17 Mobility & Access Improvements Project” that could entail the construction of a third lane in each direction on Route 17 in sections of Orange and Sullivan counties, as well as the planned Stage II improvements to Exit 122 at Crystal Run Road in the Town of Wallkill in Orange County.

The first project to move forward will be the improvements to the westbound exit 122 on Route 17, which NYSDOT Project Manager Mark Kruk estimated would cost between $75 million to $85 million. He said that the project will likely go out to bid around August of this year with work on the project to begin shortly thereafter. He estimated the job will take about two years to complete. Stage I of the Exit 122 interchange upgrade was completed in 2015.

In terms of the “NYS Route 17 Mobility & Access Improvements Project” it appears the first shovel in the ground on this overall possible $1-billion project, geared to making improvements to have Route 17 become eligible for federal interstate status and be converted to I-86, will be potentially in early 2026.

The project involves the planned upgrade of a 30-mile stretch of State Route 17 between Exit 113 in Wurtsboro in Sullivan County, and Interstate 87 in Orange County, to interstate standards. The project will improve congestion-related travel times and speeds, while addressing features of the corridor that currently do not meet federal Interstate standards.

NYSDOT’s Kruk told Real Estate In-Depth that the project is in the early stages of the environmental review process. Gov. Kathy Hochul has committed a total of $1 billion for the conversion of Route 17 to I-86. NYSDOT plans to send out a Notice of Intent to the Federal Highway Administration, which will be providing funding for the project, by the winter of this year. The department will also engage in scoping and public scoping sessions in the winter of this year as well and release a project scoping report this spring.

The DOT estimates it will begin preparation of a Draft Design Report and Draft Environmental Impact Statement in the summer of this year to be completed by the spring of 2025. At that time NYSDOT plans to release the Draft Design Report and Draft Environmental Impact Statement and hold a public hearing and seek public comment on those reports. In the Fall of 2025, NYSDOT expects to prepare and issue a Final Design Report/Final Environmental Impact Statement and register a Record of Decision on the overall project in the fall or by the end of 2025. If those timelines are achieved, work on the project could begin in 2026.

A Route 17 Planning and Environmental Linkage Study released in November 2021 recommended the state move forward with a General Use Third Lane in each direction on Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties that could if built as one major project would cost anywhere from $650 million to $1.27 billion to complete. Mr. Kruk noted that the PEL study also recommended that once a Record of Decision is finalized, NYSDOT would solicit bids on three projects along the 30-mile corridor each valued at between $300 million to $350 million.

Kruk said that “everything is on the table” as NYSDOT embarks on the environmental review that will entail such factors as: environmental and economic impacts, as well as social needs and public and agency input. Therefore, the overall Route 17 improvement project could be launched with less or more than three projects, he noted.

“That was just a planning study and looked at some things conceptually,” Kruk said. “Now, we are moving into the stage where we are looking at the nitty gritty.” He said now NYSDOT will be looking at all facets of environmental, traffic and other impacts any expansion or interchange improvement work might bring.

He also noted that the environmental review will encompass the entire 30-mile corridor and more than 30 bridge spans. Kruk said the ultimate goal of the Route 17 improvement project is to bring the roadway in Orange and sections of Sullivan County to interstate standards for future designation by the federal government for conversion to I-86.

Kruk said that exclusive of the possible expansion of the roadway to three lanes in each direction, there is considerable interchange work in the project area that must be undertaken to bring it to federal interstate standards.

Maureen Halahan, President and CEO of The Orange County Partnership, and Daniel Ortega of Engineers Labor-Employee Cooperative, were both supportive of the progress being made on the roadway’s planned improvements. Both are members of the 17-Forward-86 coalition, which has been advocating for improvements and expansion of Route 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties.

Halahan said, “It’s imperative that we upgrade our infrastructure to support the growth of our region. Investments in safety and economic stability are critical to our future success. For these reasons, the state has earmarked the 17/86 expansion as a top priority and our coalition partners at 17-Forward-86 have led the charge for years. This year the work begins and we credit Governor Kathy Hochul for her commitment to this project.”

Ortega said, “We are very excited and we are very happy that this is moving forward. This is something that Orange County and the region have been looking to get done for a very long time. So, every single effort that NYSDOT puts into getting the project moving is fantastic for everybody. We are looking forward to having our women and men of Local 825 working on the projects, whether it be the Crystal Run (Road) exit or the larger project.”

He later added that due to NYSDOT and the federal government workforce regulations, he expects the projects will be built by union labor. Ortega said that the Exit 122 and the Route 17 Improvement projects could employ hundreds and perhaps approaching 1,000 construction workers in various building trades, in addition to the enormous economic benefits they will bring to the region.