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NC Council hears more debate over Rooftop Highway

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The North Country Regional Economic Development Council is finishing work on its strategic plan. Late last week, the Council held its first meeting since releasing a draft of the plan. Some people criticized it for being short on details, but one project it did mention specifically is the controversial Rooftop Highway - a proposed interstate that would run from Watertown around to Plattsburgh.

The plan doesn't specifically endorse it, but it does acknowledge the need for improved infrastructure.

John Casserly is with a group called YesEleven. It wants to improve Route 11 - and opposes construction of a new interstate. Casserly told the council that most people don't know what the Rooftop Highway is - even people who would be directly affected by it.

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Julie Grant
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"You have not heard from any of those people," says Casserly. "You’ve got 170-miles of highway that plans to be built, crashing through all kinds of people’s homes and land and you name it.  A lot of those people have no idea about this whole thing."

Supporters of the rooftop highway like to call it I-98. Proponent Jason Clark told the Council that there is plenty of public support for it.

"Almost every taxing jurisdiction across the North Country, representing hundreds of thousands of voices across seven counties, has essentially endorsed the Interstate-98 project as a four lane limited access stand alone highway built to interstate standards."

Clarkson University President Tony Collins is a co-chair of the Economic Development Council. He says the Council’s series of public hearings provided some clarity on this issue…

"This Council was not put together to decide the best alternative in terms of a highway structure, but to determine whether the need is there. And certainly, across the whole region in all seven counties we’ve heard there’s a need for improved infrastructure, led by improved roadways and broadband."

But Collins says the Council has not specifically endorsed the Rooftop Highway…

"This Council has said two things – one is, yes we need dramatically improved highway access. And secondly, the council is willing to take that forward to the state and federal government, in particular, and say, ‘what can be done to solve this problem?’"

Collins says the Council won’t include the rooftop highway on its list of priority projects that are due to Albany on Friday.  He says the state wants those projects to be shovel-ready, and the interstate proposal needs more time, planning, and money than this immediate funding process.

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