Route 17, meet 21st century

Closed exits, improved exits, roundabouts and more

Posted 6/9/21

REGION — We have seen the future, and it is full of traffic jams and confused drivers.

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Route 17, meet 21st century

Closed exits, improved exits, roundabouts and more


REGION — We have seen the future, and it is full of traffic jams and confused drivers.

Thursday’s June 3 public workshop on proposed changes to Route 17 updated Zoom watchers on the scope and potential cost—as much as $1 billion, depending on the option chosen.

The new design, which is still in process, suggested the closure of two Sullivan exits and major upgrades to several more. There would be roundabouts, on-ramps and off-ramps—all changes geared toward improving traffic flow and making driving on Route 17 safer, project managers said.

Engineers looked at the levels of service along the part of Route 17 from Exit 103 in Sullivan County to Exit 131 in Orange County. Traffic numbers used, as Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development president Marc Baez pointed out, were from 2018 and did not necessarily reflect added businesses and increased visitors.

Then, the engineers designed a road that would serve projected numbers of travelers on a theoretical Friday evening in the year 2055. They assumed that no changes would be made to Route 17.

Traffic jam

Even 34 years on, Sullivan’s share of the route wasn’t expected to have major increases in riders or much significant slowing. There was one spot between ramps in Wurtsboro that was problematic.

Orange County, on the other hand, had large chunks of ominous stopped traffic, slowed traffic and confused traffic. “Most of Orange County is going to be operating in level of service F [the worst level],” said engineer Katherine Craig. “A lot of stop-and-go conditions.”

What the public suggested

At the first public workshop, attendees had several recommendations.

Maintaining the existing roadway was determined to be not viable, said engineer Bill Gorton. But a third lane? That would meet DOT goals.

A high-occupancy vehicle lane wouldn’t pull enough traffic from the main lanes to be worthwhile, they decided. Light rail and rapid-transit buses had appeal, but low population density and low employment density meant they weren’t worth it either.

But regular bus transit and park-and-ride “are a very valuable asset,” Gorton said.

“A new park-and-ride lot will be considered in the western end of the corridor,” he added. This would be in Sullivan County. Perhaps the eastern end?

Sullivan’s exit woes

The problem here isn’t so much traffic volume, it’s infrastructure.

Incomplete interchanges here, engineer Bernard Kalus said, have missing movements that limit connectivity. Some are poorly designed, requiring crossing lanes of fast-moving traffic.

The answers? Acceleration and deceleration lanes to help with merging and roundabouts, which Kalus said are more efficient and safer.

And there are proposed changes to exits.

To be modified: Exits 103, 104, 107, 110, and 115. (some had two options)

To be removed: Exits 108 and 114.

Kalus went into detail on the proposed modifications.

Take Exit 104:  the westbound offramp could be widened to two lanes, intersections could become roundabouts, the signal at Raceway Road could be removed, and the signal timing on Broadway could be improved.

Another example: Exit 115, which has two choices. Slightly relocate Roosa Gap Road, build westbound on- and off-ramps, and build an eastbound off-ramp. Or just eliminate that exit too.

So far, the project has two options. The first, Rebecca Novak reported, uses the existing footprint and would cost between $550m to $710m total. The second widens roadways, among other improvements, and would cost $790m to $1B.

The work is still in progress. Project engineers will begin developing their report, which will be presented in early fall. Feedback will be solicited then.

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