I am writing to express my dissatisfaction with your recent poll that asked people in the north country region if they would like an interstate highway across the region so that they can “get around easier.” This is like asking if you would like a free trip to Disney World. The problem is, you gave the question absolutely no context or background as evidenced by the people who said they didn’t know anything about the concept.
Here’s some of what was missing. This issue has been around since World War ll. It has been highly contentious, divisive, politicized and studied time and time again. Every study has concluded that the cost is not justified.
In 2002, the cost was estimated at $4.5 billion. It would be substantially more now. The studies recommended improvements of Route 11 to the level of a rural four-lane expressway. The proponents of an interstate want the highway in a new footprint, i.e., a “green-field” highway.
If built to interstate standards, it would require a corridor between 200 and 400 feet wide and 167 miles long, requiring the taking of several thousand acres of land, currently in private ownership. It would divide the region in half, bypassing many communities (witness the villages along, “old Route 11”) from Watertown to Syracuse.
There would be scores of water crossings, wetland offsets and interchanges. There would be myriad environment impacts — wetland offsets, animal migratory routes, prime agricultural land being taken out of circulation.
Interstates are designed to bypass economically dysfunctional areas. The north country economy is contracting and collapsing in many places — those will be the bypassed. A select few communities would benefit at the expense of others: winners and losers.
There is no evidence that building such a monstrosity would guarantee economic growth in any short-term way, and potentially never, even in the long term. It may well harm the region. Successful local economies could easily be harmed if not close to the interstate.
As to the claim that people avoid the region for lack of an interstate, I would draw your attention to the growing success of the fishing tournaments, full campgrounds and large university economies in Potsdam and Canton. Incidentally, the Potsdam and Canton corridor is the largest economic driver between Plattsburgh and Fort Drum.