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Interstate 98: vital for economic boon or pie in the sky?

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The fastest way to get from Watertown to Plattsburgh is U.S. Route 11. People say that's not good enough and want a full blown highway between the two cities.

In northern New York you won’t find much more than farms, a handful of colleges, and a town here or there. On the western end, you have Watertown and Fort Drum. On the eastern end you have Plattsburgh, which neighbors Burlington, Vermont.

It’s approximately 160 miles between Watertown and Plattsburgh, with U.S. Route 11 connecting the two. Economic development leaders and politicians are calling for building a four-lane highway connecting the two.  The project is referred to as a "Rooftop Highway," because northern New York is considered the roof of the state.

The corridor is geographically isolated, with the Adirondacks to the south and the St. Lawrence River to the north. According to North Country Public Radio (NCPR), the idea has been on the table for decades:

Supporters are fighting hard to push the project into the reality column. They’re calling it by a new name - Interstate 98. And they’re urging the state Department of Transportation to begin an environmental review of the project. That would mean charting a precise path for the road. And it would mean studying impacts on wetlands and forests, birds and other animals, and people’s homes and properties.

But opponents say it’s unnecessary. St. Lawrence County legislator Pat Turbitt – a Democrat – tells the Innovation Trial that he angered his party when he made a remark at a public meeting criticizing the idea, arguing that factories aren’t suddenly going to sprawl in the region.

“There’s no exit to China on a rooftop highway, because that’s where the factories are,” says Turbitt.”

Opponents like Turbitt say that a better way to handle Route 11 would be to upgrade the current road, with features like passing lanes, to help traffic move past slow-moving vehicles.  After all, there are really only three spots on 160 miles of road that get congested.  From NCPR:

 

In 2008, a DOT study determined the Route 11 corridor between Watertown and Plattsburgh really isn’t congested at all, save in 3 places – the Fort Drum area, the Canton-Potsdam area, and the Brushton-Moira area east of Malone.

(H/T to David Sommerstein at NCPR for background info)

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