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Thereís things that would be real helpful that that money would make a difference to instead of putting it into something thatís speculative

St. Lawrence county offers rooftop highway funds

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Tonight the St. Lawrence County legislature votes on a measure to allocate $20,000 for promotion of the rooftop highway. Supporters say the decades-old plan to build an Interstate between Watertown and Plattsburgh is the best way to create jobs in the North Country. Critics call it a "pipe dream". And they say many other projects are desperate for funding in lean times. David Sommerstein reports.

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The money is the leftovers of almost a million dollars St. Lawrence County gets from profits from the Akwesasne Mohawk casino.  The lion’s share of that gaming money supports tourism and economic development, through the Chamber, Cooperative Extension, and the Industrial Development Agency.

The 20,000 dollars is just a sliver of that funding.

Very tiny.

Sally Brothers chairs the St. Lawrence County legislature.  She says the money would go to the Northern Corridor Transportation Group’s for brochures and to cover mileage to promote the rooftop highway. 

Brothers is a vocal supporter of what she prefers to call Interstate 98.  She says because of 2-lane route 11, companies just won’t locate in St. Lawrence County.

We have had opportunities for businesses to come to this area, and repeatedly, they have crunched the numbers and realized that it is not practical because of transportation issues.

With unemployment stubbornly above 10%, Brothers says aggressive pursuit of the rooftop highway is the best return on investment.

We are sitting on the precipice of a great change in this county if this project were to go through, a change that would benefit the people of this county in terms of economic development way beyond anything that we could possibly imagine.

Over decades, there have been very few vocal critics to the rooftop highway.  But as local governments and not-for-profits scrape for scarce funding, some opposition is coalescing.  There have been letters to the editor in local papers saying a highway would trash the environment, that the job creation figures are way overblown.  There’s been criticism by the village of Massena that I-98 lead booster Jason Clark isn’t spending enough time on mom-and-pop business development.  And now some people are lobbying their county lawmakers to vote down the 20,000 dollar allocation.

I think there would be much better uses for that.

Klauss Proem lives in Canton.  Proem says budgets are stretch too tight to give money to a project that’s so far-fetched.  He says the money could go toward bus transportation to Gouverneur, or get more people broadband Internet, anything, he says, that could help people find jobs short-term.

There’s things that I think would be real helpful that that money would make a difference to, instead of putting it into something that’s way down the road and speculative.

A rooftop highway would take years to build and cost at least 4 billion dollars.  The state department of transportation’s against it.  Instead, the DOT prefers more modest improvements along existing route 11.  But county chairwoman Sally Brothers says that could change if Governor Cuomo wants it to.  And that’s why she wants 20,000 dollars to help promote a rooftop highway.

For North Country Public Radio, I’m David Sommerstein.

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