Potsdam, NY, Feb 07, 2013 — While in Potsdam Tuesday, Governor Cuomo threw cold water on the decades old idea of a new Interstate between Watertown and Plattsburgh. But he left open a sliver of hope for supporters of the so-called "rooftop highway."
For more than five years now, the state Department of Transportation has been opposed to a full-blown limited access divided highway across the north of the North Country. The DOT instead prefers more modest improvements to the existing Route 11.
The person who has the power to change that is Governor Cuomo. Speaking to reporters at Clarkson Tuesday, he gave no indication he would anytime soon.
"We don't have enough money right now. The government doesn't have enough money given the national economy, and I'm not in a position where I want to raise taxes. So we need an economic reality check on a lot of these ideas."
The rooftop highway would stretch about 180 miles and cost an estimated $4 billion.
But Cuomo did leave some wiggle room. He said the highway "might" be a good idea if it could be proven to yield enough economic value. But he repeated that still wouldn't answer the funding problem.
"So study it. If it's a good idea, then the question is always the funding."
At Cuomo's visit, many local leaders were wearing I-98 lapel pins. St. Lawrence County legislator Fred Morrill was one of them. He helped secure $20,000 of county money to promote the highway. He said he's undeterred because he says the North Country needs it.
"We need that for economic development, getting goods in and out of this area. I think the case is compelling. And I don't think that, because it's difficult, we give up."
A group formed two years ago to oppose the rooftop highway. YES-Eleven says the better use of money is to improve Route 11, as the DOT recommends. YES-Eleven says the rooftop highway is "unneeded, unaffordable, and totally unrealistic".