St. Lawrence County is home to 322 highway bridges. One hundred twenty-six of those bridges are classified "deficient," and many are weight-restricted. That is one in three bridges. The "Big County" is also served by 1,120 miles of roads. Of these, 678 miles are labeled as "fair" or "poor." That is more than 50 percent of our road miles. Additionally, many of our municipal water and sewage treatment systems are reaching the end of their useful lifespans. Imagine how much money it will take just to fix what we already have. Who is going to pay for it? The villages that are considering dissolving for the weight of their costs? The towns that are caught between a rock and a tax cap? Our county that is $13 million in the red and counting? New York state with its $9 billion-and-growing deficit?
This is scary stuff, but not nearly as frightening as the thought that if we are fortunate enough to get any federal infrastructure money in the next year or two, it is likely to come to the states in the form of block grants, giving the states the power to pass it around as they see fit. If this should happen, I would like to issue the prediction now that the St. Lawrence County Legislature will pour every dime of whatever money we receive into their obsession with starting their "Highway Of Dreams," the "Rooftop Interstate Highway." This is not just any highway. This highway will take 20 or more years to build, if it is ever fully funded, and cost many, many billions of dollars. It will require continuous funding for generations. An interstate highway corridor is a minimum of 300 feet wide, much wider at interchanges. It will require the taking of thousands acres of land in proximity to the Route 11 corridor. Hundreds of additional, "lucky" landowners will have it running through or within a few hundred feet of their homes, farms and businesses. As one county legislator generously offered recently, "It's too bad that some people will have to move, but it's for the greater good." Whose good? The jobs prediction numbers being offered are grossly over-inflated and completely unsupported.
Proponents of the interstate make it sound like we are all going to wake up one morning and the highway will just suddenly be there, all ready to go. These things happen in real time. Take note of the Fort Drum connector: eight years for 5 miles of interstate highway. What would be happening to our local economy and infrastructure during that 20 or 30 years? Most likely, it would continue to crumble into the ground and fall into the water because all of our economic and political energy would be spent chasing unicorns. Are businesses really going to sit on their hands for 20 or 30 years waiting for this road to be finished "someday"?
Our current highway infrastructure evolved over a period of 200 years, primarily along and in support of the Route 11 corridor. This is what we should be working on: improving and upgrading the Route 11 highway to the level of a rural expressway, as called for in the 2002 Northern Tier Transportation Study (Chapter 6.4, 6.5). Amid all of our talk of conservatism in recent times, what has happened to the basic principle, "Take care of what you have first"? Our primary economic corridor, with its counties, towns and villages, needs our attention on a massive scale for many years to come. Please visit the website www.yeseleven.org to view the maps of potential routes for the "Rooftop Highway" along with the 2002 and 2008 transportation studies supporting the affordable plan to upgrade Route 11. Tell your legislators that you want what we have taken care of instead of building "Highways Of Dreams."
John Danis lives in Canton and is one of the spokespeople for the citizens group, YESeleven, which is committed to the modernization and improvement of the North Country's existing highway infrastructure and opposed to an interstate highway across the region, popularly known as the "Rooftop Highway."