By Nathan Mayberg
WOLF LAKE June 25, 2004 Billys Stop & Convenience Store, one of the busier gas stations in the county, could be out of business if a proposal by state Department of Transportation engineers goes through, according to its owner.
The proposal is part of an ongoing effort to turn Route 17 into Interstate 86, which requires the highway to meet federal standards. DOT engineers call Wolf Lakes Exit 111, next to which Billys is located, deficient.
The exit has a lane that diverges from the highway for about 250 feet before it turns into a short ramp and meets Lake Louise Marie Road. A stop sign is at the intersection of Lake Louise Marie Road, the gas station and the traffic which comes off the highway.
Bazir Multani, who has owned the station for nine years, said he supported the proposed changes two years ago, which would have pushed his building further off the highway and smoothed out the turnoff from the highway. He would have given the state part of his property as a right of way.
The initial proposal would have also created a bridge behind his property and across the highway to create a Wolf Lake exit going westbound onto the highway. He even had 600 signatures in support of the measure.
Peter Larson, DOT project manager for Region 9, and John Pioch, an official with DOT, both claimed that public opposition had stifled the plan. They said property owners who lived close to the highway objected.
But Multani disagreed.
Nobody lives here, he said.
Behind Lake Louise Marie Road lies the neighborhood where Multani lives. He and his neighbors all supported the project back then, he claimed. Now, he has another 600 signatures in support of the old proposal, keeping Exit 111 open.
Without it, Multani said he would be forced to close. He estimates he receives 900-1,100 customers a day, selling over 125,000 gallons a month in gas.
As cars lined up at the gas station earlier this week, Multani said 85 percent of that business comes from the highway.
If they close [the exit], I will close right away. It makes no sense to stay here.
He gathered several people to help make his case to DOT officials at their presentation this week in Monticello. Local customers were passionate in their support of Multani and the exit.
Martin Feldi, who builds homes in the area, said, This exit should never be closed. . . . As a builder, it is very convenient and practical.
How much building is he doing?
Feldi is currently working on 15 lots himself. He estimated there are hundreds of other lots being built on, all directly serviced by Exit 111.
One frequent customer characterized Exit 111 as the biggest exit for building in Sullivan County.
But Exit 111 wont be the only exit closed. Exit 108 will also be eliminated in Bridgeville. Several people at the meeting expressed concern for Clemente Latham Concrete, which uses the exit the most in order to transport their material. DOT officials said the exit would be closed due to its proximity to exits 109 (Rock Hill) and 107 (South Fallsburg). It isnt worth bringing up to federal standards, in their view.
Other proposals shelled out Tuesday at the Neighborhood Facility in Monticello by NYSDOT included major changes at exits 102, 103, 104 and 106. Officials are accepting public comment until next year. They plan on beginning construction in 2006 and turning Route 17 into Interstate 86 by 2009.
Exit 104, near Monticello Raceway, would see a reconfiguration of the intersection with County Road 174 and lowering the mainline to provide vertical clearance of the Route 17B bridge over Route 17, along with the reconstruction of Liberty Street over Route 17.
There are six proposals for an interchange at Monticellos Exit 106, which would place an additional exit on the other side of the highway.
Mark Lerner, who owns a good portion of the property surrounding the proposed improvements, favored the less costly proposals. Some of the other proposals would force him to sell his property to the state.
Three proposals for Exit 102 (Harris/Bushville) include a two-lane, one-way frontage road between County Road 174 and the hospital, lowering the mainline, constructing a diamond interchange or constructing trumpet-style eastbound ramps between County Road 75 and the Mongaup River.
Town of Thompson Deputy Supervisor William Rieber spoke at length to Larson about proposed changes to westbound Exit 109 in Rock Hill. He said he had responded to three accidents there earlier in the week. The exit to the highway is short and quickly pulls drivers onto it, said Rieber. Rieber said the turn needs to be smoothed out.
Ive seen too many accidents there, he remarked.