‘Rooftop Highway’ discussion urged

Traffic passes through the intersection of Elm and Market streets in Potsdam in this file photo. A Clarkson University student who studied bypass options in the Canton and Potsdam areas said this intersection “is the worst intersection in the north country.” Watertown Daily Times

MASSENA — Massena Mayor Timothy J. Ahlfeld says he’d like to resurrect a subject that’s been dormant for a few years — I-98, or the so-called “Rooftop Highway.”

Mr. Ahlfeld says he’s drafted a letter to send out to other municipalities to gauge their support.

“With all the money that’s available at the federal level, I thought it might be a good idea to reach out to other municipalities in the tri-county area” where the proposed highway was going to be located, he said. “It was supposed to run from Jefferson County all the way over to Clinton County.”

The proposed highway would run 140 miles between Watertown and the Canadian border at Champlain. Supporters say it would boost the region’s economy. Opponents say it would divert traffic away from local communities, and the money should be spent to improve Route 11, the main east-west road spanning the north country.

“I did some research. I found out this has been going on since before I was born in the early ‘60s. I was born in ‘63 and this has been talked about way back in the ‘40s and ‘50s and it really gained some traction in the early ‘60s,” Mr. Ahlfeld said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had referenced the Rooftop Highway in his 2014 State of the State address. But the concept never got off the ground, and Mr. Ahlfeld wants to see if the proposal can be resurrected again for discussion.

“We’re going to send (the letter) to the Jefferson County Board of Legislators, leaders in St. Lawrence County, over in Clinton County as well as our state leaders and Sen. (Chuck) Schumer and Sen. (Kirsten) Gillibrand’s office, just to see if there’s any interest. If there’s not, that’s fine, but at least we didn’t sit here doing nothing,” he said.

Mr. Ahlfeld said Sen. Schumer’s office has reviewed the letter.

“Senator Schumer’s office was nice enough to review it. They said on the surface that would be a nice idea,” he said.

But, they said, they couldn’t make any promises with how money allocated to the federal Department of Transportation would be spent.

Mr. Ahlfeld said the proposal would benefit the north country.

“One of the biggest problems that we have is people. Once they get there, they love it here. But it’s hard to get here. It’s hard to get a product out of here,” he said. “Who knows what can happen. I think the last time some of the things that were done, there were arguments and discussions about where it should be. I’m not so interested in where it is as long as we’ve got something here.”

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(2) comments

HotelMike

Bad idea. Basically, a road to nowhere. The hwy infrastructure is not the reason for lack of business development in the Northern Tier.

Joseph Savoca

A good transportation system is necessary for any kind of industry-tourism and fishing, aluminum smelting, anything.

Any area that is isolated the way that the North Country is now will be totally bypassed for any economic development.

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