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Regional Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Flick says the agency held off on using the 2005 funds as it waited for public sentiment to coalesce around either support of the I-98 proposal or commitment to improvements along Route 11.
"And for a period of time there was, not really, you know, clear direction, if you will," Flick said. "There was public sentiment in different areas along the route, and you know, St. Lawrence County had specific wants, wishes and desires, the other counties along the Route 11 corridor were less vocal in their wants for a standalone highway, and given that we really didn't have clear direction from the public body if you will, we kind of just held off to see, you know, what would come of the different conversations that were being had."
Jason Clark, executive director for the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena and a leader of the charge for the I-98 project, didn't return a call for comment. But he told the Watertown Daily Times that he questioned whether the DOT had the right to use the funding for Route 11 work.
Flick says the legislation that provided the funding doesn't specify that the $6.3 million must be used for a new rooftop highway. Instead, it refers to the “Northern Tier Expressway,” which he says could mean a new highway, or could simply mean the existing Route 11.
Flick says the I-98 proposal has been studied and more studies aren't needed. Meanwhile, he says, Route 11 needs work.
"We're kind of at a point where, you know, there's work on Route 11 that needs to be done, quite honestly," he said. "You know, we've deferred maintenance and improvements along the area, or along the corridor, for a long enough period of time where, um, the general highway system is just degrading, and it needs to be preserved."
Flick says needed improvements along Route 11 include dedicated turning lanes, passing lanes in areas where the state already owns enough adjacent property to accommodate them, and signal improvments. He says the department is currently studying the route to figure out where to make the improvements. Work on more complicated projects could begin in 2015, with smaller projects possibly beginning sooner.
For North Country Public Radio, I'm Joanna Richards, in Watertown.