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The general sketch of a "rooftop highway" as envisioned in a 2003 report for the Development Authority of the North Country.
The general sketch of a "rooftop highway" as envisioned in a 2003 report for the Development Authority of the North Country.

Did Cuomo support the 'rooftop highway'?

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Update, 1/10/14: We have received confirmation from Gov. Cuomo's office: The North Country transportation study in in the State of the State address is for a Canton-Potsdam bypass - NOT a I-98 Interstate / rooftop highway.

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In his State of the State message Wednesday, Governor Cuomo spent an unexpected 16 seconds seemingly stumping for a North Country transportation upgrade that's been talked about for half a century.

Cuomo said this about the so-called 'rooftop highway' between Watertown and Plattsburgh - more recently known as 'I-98': "In the North Country, the proposed route 98 could reduce travel times and speed up commerce,"Cuomo said. "Let's see if we can make it a reality. We've been talking about it for years. Let's get DOT to undertake a study and see if we can make this project happen."

But language in the detailed report for the Governor's agenda suggests a more modest picture. As David Sommerstein reports, the study may actually be about a bypass for the Canton-Potsdam area.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

In the official press release about Governor Cuomo’s 2014 agenda, the stuff about I-98, or the rooftop highway, is at the very bottom, even below the “for more information” part — as if it were a last-minute add-on.

SEN. LITTLE: It was a surprise.

State Senator Betty Little says it caught her off-guard. But she says she remembers the route 11 corridor being discussed recently at a meeting in Watertown.

SEN. LITTLE: And there was a lot of talk about that in regards to needing a bypass in Canton and Potsdam and is that highway ever going to happen? Are we going to move forward with that?

The book providing the details on the State of the State message lays out a brief recent history of the notion of a divided Interstate from I-81 in Watertown, across St. Lawrence and northern Franklin counties, to I-87 in Plattsburgh.

That the idea was first born in the 1950s. That the state DOT has studied it twice, in 2003 and again in 2008. That a full-blown Interstate would cost some 6 billion dollars. That a series of more minor modifications and bypasses would cost some 700 million dollars. And that the North Country Regional Economic Development Council recently endorsed one of those modifications — a bypass for glutted traffic in Canton and Potsdam on State Route 11.

It’s this last point that appears to have won Cuomo’s support in the State of the State documents. They say a bypass could “bolster quality of life and result in economic benefits” for the region. They instruct the state DOT to conduct an environmental impact study for the bypass, saying the results will “guide consideration of next steps.”

A call to the Governor’s office asking for clarification wasn’t returned yesterday.

Still, North Country lawmakers Patty Ritchie, Addie Russell, and Joe Griffo all cheered Cuomo for supporting what they called a feasibility study of the full Interstate highway from Watertown to Plattsburgh. State Senator Patty Ritchie said I-98 would provide much needed economic growth.

SEN. RITCHIE: The fact that he mentioned the I-98 highway and the feasibility study is something that’s been talked about for a number of years so I think that gives that proposal a real push forward and waiting to see what comes out of that.

Critics of the rooftop highway idea also praised Governor Cuomo. John Casserly of the citizen group Yes-11 says the Canton-Potsdam bypass study is “exactly what we want to do”. What Yes-11 doesn’t want, he says, is an Interstate that plows away land, trees, and houses across swaths of northern New York.

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