By Nathan Mayberg
BLOOMINGBURG April 5, 2005 United States Senator Charles Schumer and United States Representative Maurice Hinchey made a rare joint appearance in Sullivan County on Friday in front of the Quickway Diner in Bloomingburg to call on the state to widen Route 17 to three lanes with or without casinos.
Hinchey blasted the state for failing to use approximately $500 million which was earmarked for Interstate 86 improvements in a federal transportation bill, which gave $8 billion to the State of New York. The congressman said that less than 20 percent of that money was used. The state used the money for other projects, he said.
This time, said Hinchey, Congress will be passing a transportation bill which would allocate over $10 billion to the state. Both he and Schumer used the press conference to urge the state to widen Route 17, which they said was already a source of traffic congestion.
With the new bill, the two would once again urge the state to follow through with its plans to transform Route 17 to Interstate 86, which would transform or eliminate at-grade intersections along the path from Harriman through the Binghamton region. According to Schumer, most of the I-86 work has already been performed in the Binghamton area.
Schumer said the state should widen Route 17 to three lanes from Harriman to Monticello.
I would even say Roscoe, he added.
The Senator estimated that widening the approximately 90 miles between Harriman and Roscoe, would cost between $600,000 to $1 million a mile, or $900 million at the most.
The conference was directed at Orange County as well as Sullivan. Standing next to the two was Sullivan County Legislature Chairman Chris Cunningham and Orange County Executive Edward Diana. Also appearing was New York State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. Todd Diorio, President of the Hudson Valley Building and Trades Council was given a chance to speak as well.
Both congressmen said that the state should chip in with its own funds, and if casinos were to come, they should also bear the cost burden, since they would be the source of a significant traffic increase.
Both of them said that growth had increased substantially over the last several years in Orange County, and Sullivan County was now beginning to experience similar growth.
Their opinion on casinos, however, stood in stark contrast to one another. Schumer said he was a supporter of three casinos and would continue to be. Five, he said was another question. He stated that his support for New York State Governor George Patakis plan for five casinos in the Catskills would depend on local community support. He did not speculate as to the congressional support for the legislation.
My opinion is, Im waiting to see the support of the community.
He said when three casinos were approved by the State Legislature, there was real community support. Now, he said, there are a lot of questions, including Route 17.
Hinchey, on the other hand, said the wide range of impacts that casinos would cause must be studied before any approvals are granted.
He referred to testimony by Sullivan County District Attorney Stephen Lungen and Sullivan County Sheriff Dan Hogue recently, which included a number of concerns about the impacts the casinos would have on their departments.
None of it has been addressed, and all of it needs to be addressed, said Hinchey. This is basic stuff.
One study, he said, estimated that an average of 1,000 additional cars would travel on Route 17 due to casinos.
Route 42, the main gateway to two proposed casinos (at the Concord and Kutshers Sports Academy) was not addressed by any of the speakers, although it is regularly the scene of much traffic. However, Hinchey noted it as another one of the many concerns.
Gunther spoke glowingly of future casinos, which she referred to as five-star resorts. She said a $2.9 billion bond act for transportation would be voted on in November, and she wanted the funds to include money for I-86.
Cunningham said the Route 17 upgrades have been necessary for a while.
The area is growing regardless of casinos, he said.
The upgrades or lack of upgrades to Route 17 will have a direct affect on tourism and quality of life in the county, he added.
Diana said, I believe in casinos. I believe in job creation.
But the highway must be improved through a dedicated fund from the state, federal government and the casinos, he said. The local taxpayer should not be burdened.
Diorio stated that he represented 28 trade unions and that the widening of Route 17 would give work to thousands of construction personnel.
In other news, Hinchey announced that the speed limit on Route 17 in Sullivan County would go up to 65 miles per hour this year, except in Parksville.
Both he and Schumer also stated their support for a bill in Congress which would give a $1,000 tax credit to volunteer firefighters. Schumer said the program would cost half of a billion dollars a year.
He said there was a critical need for volunteer firefighters, and that if paid firefighters became necessary, the cost would be even higher.