A recent News article quoted special interests and politicians advocating the building of the next section (Section 6) of Route 219. This desperate push to extend the expressway began in 2007, when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers caught the New York State Department of Transportation using a flawed study to obtain wetlands permits and weasel out of complying with the law. The corps required the state to fix the study for the entire remainder of Route 219, reattaching Section 6 to Sections 7 through 12.
Supporters need Section 6, a short and otherwise useless 3.5-mile segment, separated once again to leverage further extension before the public learns -- according to every regulatory agency -- that all project goals can be achieved by improving the existing road at a fraction of the cost. Such an upgrade could be finished within a couple of years instead of several decades; and those permits have already been offered. Hundreds of millions of federal dollars would become available for the repair of existing, disintegrating roads and bridges, creating construction jobs all over the area for years to come.
According to official documents, the primary reason Albany has touted expanding Route 219 since 1995 is Southern Tier development. Supporters surely know the economy is hammering most Southern Tier development. According to real estate experts, the Southern Tier is about to become the foreclosure capitol of Western New York. In a sane world, this real estate reality should have killed the project. To cover this up, supporters have shifted back to promoting Route 219 as part of the Continental 1 superhighway, which they claim will benefit the area.
But a federal expert on trade corridors who worked on NAFTA negotiations says that the government expects economic development at the terminal ends of the project -- Toronto and Miami -- not in Western New York -- just one of many differences between the various levels of government. For example, the feds want Continental 1 built right away, but Albany wants it built piecemeal over many years (decades) to promote rural residential development and stop the hemorrhage of people fleeing the state. Local officials prefer light industrial and other non-residential development, with lengthy delays to maximize any development around a number of extremely expensive, dangerous and unnecessary interchanges.
All levels of government and special-interest groups are projecting faster transit times for commercial traffic, but are ignoring the fact that it snows more heavily and ices up faster in the Southern Tier hills than in the valleys where the current Route 219 is located. Ski resorts are clamoring for faster access, too. Unfortunately, much of the year the expressway would be no faster than the shorter existing road. Under optimal conditions, a round-trip to Ellicottville might save you a grand total of six minutes.
As for Interstate 86, Albany is fighting with the Senecas over taxes and has moved the terminal end of the expressway off Seneca territory, so there is no way to make calculations. Building Section 6 would be a violation of federal law, which requires an actual "logical terminus" location, not just I-86. Since the Senecas declined to endorse the project, it appears that they are happier without it and see no benefit from Continental 1.
Based on Albany's estimates from the tax battle, we know that the economic impact of the highway is considerably lower than the rosy projections spewing out of supporters.
Even if true, the projected benefits of Continental 1 can't occur until the whole road is completed, and in a timely fashion, before another route is chosen. That would mean building it all at one time. The DOT insists that's impossible.
The current "piece-at-a-time" plan can only endanger lives, waste money and wipe out property owners like me and my neighbors. So, does anyone out there realistically believe that a failed 57-year-old development scheme and a NAFTA superhighway designed to benefit Toronto and Miami can help the Western New York economy? Who's kidding who?
Timothy Klahn, a community activist, lives near the Route 219/Peters Road interchange in West Valley and has criticized the handling of the project since 1995.