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Route 11 passing through Potsdam. Photo: <a href="">Doug Kerr</a>, Creative Commons, some rights reserved
Route 11 passing through Potsdam. Photo: Doug Kerr, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

DOT chief throws cold water on rooftop highway

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Speaking after a budget hearing in Albany yesterday, state Department of Transportation commissioner Joan McDonald threw cold water on the idea of an Interstate linking Watertown and Plattsburgh across the North Country. "My guess is that we probably wouldn't do the highway," McDonald told New York Now. "But I want to take a look one more time."

McDonald said two separate studies in the last decade have concluded the corridor along Route 11 through St. Lawrence and Franklin counties didn't have enough traffic to merit a divided highway.

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David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Instead, the DOT recommended piecemeal improvements, such as bypasses and passing lanes. An Interstate would cost an estimated $6 billion to build. "I haven’t ruled it out yet, but I know what the results of the last two studies showed,"said McDonald. "That the costs of building it and the volume of traffic did not meet the cost-benefit test. But we will quickly take a look at it, do a fatal flaw analysis."

Supporters of the rooftop highway, which they call I-98, say it’s indispensable for economic growth in the North Country. Ernie Labaff is a union leader and member of the I-98 group. "That’s all we’ve ever heard from companies: if you’re not 35 miles from a four lane highway, we’re not coming," says Labaff. "We’ve had Route 11 for a hundred years. It hasn’t brought in jobs. We’re losing jobs. Usually, you get out of Syracuse and say, this is the end of civilization as we know it because when you start driving North, you know why we need a four lane highway."

In his budget, Governor Cuomo allocated $2.5 million dollars to study transportation improvements in the North Country. DOT officials say they’re still not sure exactly what the study will focus on.

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