In Albany, $1 billion dollars of the funds NYS received from the historic infrastructure bill have been allocated to the expansion/widening of Rte 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties. But a coalition of regional voices has a better idea.

RTE 17 Expansion & Community Voices

In Albany, $1 billion dollars of the funds NYS received from the historic infrastructure bill have  been allocated to the expansion/widening of Rte 17 in Orange and Sullivan counties. But many have asked if we can’t use those funds in a better way, namely not just widening the road at certain points but including a design to support and encourage responsible and sustainable development along the Rte 17 corridor and the associated necessary support services (sewer and storm water management and other climate-related infrastructure upgrades).  A coalition, ReThink Rte 17,  was formed to advocate for our community needs, for that “better way”.

Orange Environment Inc, as a founding member of the ReThink Rte 17 Coalition, looks to continue their mission of advocating for sustainable transportation and development in Orange County and the surrounding region. 

ReThink Rte 17 represents a diverse coalition of local, state and national groups (see full list of coalition members below) that have worked for decades to ensure responsible and environmentally-sound development along the Route 17 corridor and throughout the greater Lower Hudson Valley/Catskill region. 

Route 17 Expansion – the Real Costs

Through the coalition’s work, we have collectively examined traffic patterns along Route 17 and surrounding roadways and have studied the environmental, climate, and traffic impacts of highway expansions in other regions of the country as well. Expanding the highway will not solve long-term “congestion problems” as case studies across the country have documented that while adding additional lanes might bring some short-term relief, it very often increases traffic congestion over the longer-term due to “induced demand,” i.e….adding a lane causes more people to use that highway at peak times, and often to travel further, resulting in the same level of congestion as before—and sometimes resulting in much higher traffic delays. Moreover, in the long run, the additional highway capacity will induce further sprawling land use development that will add more car trips. 

And widening Route 17 will pose other environmental threats to the region. It would unnecessarily pave over existing greenspace and slice through nationally and regionally significant natural areas along the corridor—including the Bashakill Wildlife Management Area, the Shawangunk Mountains, and the Neversink River basin. It would likely exacerbate air pollution problems in the region, including particulate matter and carbon monoxide levels. And the expected air pollution and traffic increases from the proposed highway expansion would potentially have a disproportionate impact on low-income communities along the Route 17 corridor—in addition to drawing resources away from mass transit options that these communities rely on more heavily than other constituencies.  Also, advancing a nearly 50 mile widening of Route 17 will be inconsistent with New York’s climate mandates to slash greenhouse gas emissions 85% by 2050 under the state’s landmark Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA).

ReThinking the Expansion – Beyond a 3rd Lane

Our organizations believe the Governor’s Administration should develop an alternative transportation plan for the region focused on moving people and goods without adding additional lanes to Route 17 and the attendant impacts. As part of this plan, we recognize that some sections of Route 17—such as the stretch between Harriman and Middletown—could be upgraded to meet federal interstate standards. But a main pillar of any alternative plan should focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions (and other pollution) through increased mass transit, zero-emissions goods movement, electrified public and private fleets, reduced use of single-occupancy cars, and creation of more walkable and bikeable communities. Another pillar of an alternative plan should focus on creating a climate-resilient transportation system along the Route 17 corridor. Climate mitigation projects may also be necessary to assure mobility in the long term and during disasters. This would further provide resources to mainline communities along Route 17 to invest in water, sewer, energy, waste, heat absorption, storm water and other climate-related infrastructure upgrades. And any alternative plan must ensure, among other things, that disadvantaged communities receive an equitable share of resources, that such communities do not bear a disproportionate burden of economic and social impacts, and that there is fairness in mobility and accessibility for all community members. If the environmental review process moves forward, these and other alternative plan elements should of course be fully evaluated. 

The ReThink Rte 17 Coalition stands ready to work with the the NYS Governor’s office, State Assembly & Senate, the DOT and our local communities to design and implement a transportation vision for the Route 17 region that helps move people and goods without increasing pollution, is consistent with the state’s climate obligations, supports well-paying jobs in construction and operations, and is fair and equitable to all New Yorkers. 

Coalition members and supporters: Orange Environment Inc (OE), the Catskill Moutainkeeper, Earthjustice, Natural Resources Defense Council (NDRC), Harvard University Loeb Fellow and Urban Planner Arif Khan, Regional Plan Association (RPA), Tri-State Transportation Campaign (TSTC), Riverkeeper, Citizen Action New York, NY Renews, Sustainable Hudson Valley, Catskill Heritage Alliance, Simon Gruber of the Institute for Sustainable Cities Hunter College, Lake Communities Alliance, actor Mark Ruffalo, Concerned Citizens for the Hudson Valley, Rivers & Mountains GreenFaith, Catskill Center, New York League of Conservation Voters, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Preservation Collective Inc, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).