Gov. Andrew Cuomo has once again stirred discussion of the “Rooftop Highway” proposals for the North Country with a mention in his budget address Tuesday.
He again called it “route 98,” as he did in his State of the State message last week, causing some confusion among advocates of an Interstate-standard highway across the North Country they have dubbed “I-98.”
“The governor made his announcement with the Interstate 98 shield on the support screen next to him,” said Dan Skamperle, an Ogdensburg city councilor and Interstate 98 advocate, according to a press release from the Northern Corridor Transportation Group, a Norfolk-based association that wants the Interstate as a spur to economic growth in the North Country.
"If anyone still questions his commitment to the Interstate 98 project, they need a simple reality check…it was right there on the screen,” Skamperle is quoted as saying.
Others are advocating a less ambitious project to upgrade U.S. Rt. 11 and make it a more efficient route between Watertown and Plattsburgh.
The governor repeated his earlier call for a $2.5 million “route 98 feasibility study.”
The chair of the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee, himself an I-98 proponent and a friend of labor, takes the governor’s statement as support of the I-98 plan.
“On behalf of the whole NNY region, the St. Lawrence Democratic Committee heartily thanks Governor Cuomo for his support of the Route 98 project,” said Chair Mark Bellardini. “We finally have a governor who recognizes the importance of such a highway to our region and to all of NY. We are very grateful for his leadership on Route 98 as he recognizes that it is a major infrastructure weakness in the NYS highway system.”
Bellardini says an improved trade route could be key to economic prosperity in the region.
“We have watched our few major businesses leave and the poverty of our people worsen” he said. “The governor knows the importance of adequate trade routes and their relationship to growth of commerce and prosperity. The entire region benefits enormously from the support he has shown; this is a project with a transformational impact for all New Yorkers.”
"He called for the investment during his State of the State address and he has backed that up with his budget request; we appreciate that," said Wade Davis, chair of the Northern Corridor Transportation Group and executive director of the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority.
Greg Paquin, a St. Lawrence County legislator that represents District 14 in Massena, said in a post-speech statement from the Northern Corridor Transportation Group that he was pleased by the call to fund the feasibility assessment.
"The North Country, St. Lawrence County and especially Massena are in desperate need of new mechanisms to create and retain jobs," Paquin said.
“Given some of the recent announcements surrounding the possible economic future in Massena and St. Lawrence County as a whole, it seems ridiculous to continue this debate about what the governor means by what he says. He's on it."