SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — They’ve only just begun the process, but turnout at an online public workshop held by New York State’s Department of Transportation (DOT) made one thing clear: …
SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — They’ve only just begun the process, but turnout at an online public workshop held by New York State’s Department of Transportation (DOT) made one thing clear: The road is important.
Well over 100 listeners were present for the workshop on as-yet-unspecified changes to Route 17, which crosses Sullivan County from Roscoe to Bloomingburg, passing through Liberty and Monticello on the way.
This was just an introductory session. More meetings will be had, committees will meet and public input will be solicited as part of a new approach to early-stage project design, called Planning and Environmental Linkage (PEL).
PEL’s approach gets everyone involved, Manisha Patel, PE, explained. The point is “to make sure we consider the goals of a community.” That includes concern for residents, the environment and tourism, as well as commuters and archaeologists. “It helps create better real-world outcomes for communities.”
Retired DOT District 8 regional director Bill Gorton, who is working as a consultant on the project, gave a timeline. Meetings will be held from now into May; in June and July, they’ll prepare the draft project; and the “final project scoping” will take place from August to October.
For Sullivan County, the workshop made clear that the team was looking at economic development. There are proposed new businesses, like an e-commerce site and three new hotels. Resorts World Catskills and the Kartrite are already up and operating. All this, post-pandemic, would affect traffic on 17.
Pre-COVID-19, people seemed to prefer driving to Orange County or New York City rather than using Park and Ride. Gorton cited 2019 Park and Ride usage statistics: 56 percent of capacity in Wurtsboro and 65 percent at Shortline in Monticello. (Compare that with a usage of 123 percent of capacity in Chester.) It’s unknown how the pandemic would change that.
Public comment at recent county legislature meetings has expressed concern about safety and crashes. Katherine Craig, PE, said that the majority of crashes both east and west-bound were related to fixed-object and rear-end accidents. (Nineteen percent involved an animal.)
Gorton then described road conditions on 17 overall as generally “pretty good,” with some needing resurfacing. There were no major drainage issues. The most significant reason to redesign roads is that we drive faster. Some curves may have to be redesigned, and five bridges are “below requirements” in terms of shoulder definition, lane width and, especially, “vertical clearance.” (In other words, not tall enough for big trucks; 16 feet is better than 14.)
Part of a PEL approach is to look at “environmental justice.” That means that people of color in the 17 corridor and low-income communities are not harmed when a project is underway. Nicole Weymouth, an environmental and project manager, said, “We want to be aware of these communities and be sure we’re not going to cause an adverse” condition.
For example, stormwater and drainage need to be addressed. There’s an aquifer near Kiryas Joel and the Neversink Kill to consider.
Active farmland will be identified, she said, as well as parks, and the need to be conscious of endangered species. They’ll “look for cultural resources, the potential for archaeological sites” and keep views in mind. “This is an important impact for this corridor.”
The next public workshop will be in June.
Here’s what the public cares about:
Participants were able to provide feedback, with an evolving visual that changed as they added input.
What vision did participants have for Route 17?
Robust economic future
Safe, efficient access
Maintaining the views
What do people want?
Supporting and enhancing economic development.
Environmentally-friendly materials and approaches to the work
Sound barriers for those who live nearby
Accommodating Sullivan County’s increased summer traffic
Keeping in mind Sullivan’s future growth
[UPDATE: This article was updated to correct that Bill Gorton is retired from DOT and working on the project as a consultant.]