“The entire 381-mile length of (New York State) Route 17 is scheduled to be fully converted to Interstate 86 by 2009.”

“The entire 381-mile length of (New York State) Route 17 is scheduled to be fully converted to Interstate 86 by 2009.”
That statement was included in a Feb. 4, 2004, press release from then-Gov. George Pataki. The release announced that Route 17 had been officially designated I-86 from Exit 48 in the Town of Corning to Exit 52 in the Town of Horseheads.
At the time of the release, 185 miles of Route 17 had been designated I-86, leaving another 196 miles of the roadway that needed upgrades or reconstruction to meet federal interstate highway regulations.
Nearly 200 miles in five years? An ambitious plan, no doubt.
In hindsight, that’s all it was. Not only did the state fail to meet its five-year goal, it never came remotely close.
Over the past eight years, just 16 of the 196 miles have been designated I-86, and a timetable for completion remains elusive.

The work
The 16 miles completed since 2004 involved two projects.
The first was a 10-mile conversion project in Kirkwood, east of Binghamton. That project was finished in 2006.
The second project was in Horseheads, where crews built a two-mile bypass through the village. The project, completed in 2007, allowed I-86 to be extended from Horseheads to Elmira.
Currently, I-86 runs approximately 197 miles from Erie, Pa., to Elmira. Approximately 191 miles are in New York. Between Elmira and the planned eastern terminus at I-87 in Harriman, only the 10-mile stretch in Kirkwood is designated I-86.
Work to convert six miles of Route 17 to I-86 from Elmira to the Town of Chemung should be completed this fall, and a 3-mile conversion project in Parksville, Sullivan County, is expected to be done in September.
That still leav es approximately 170 miles of Route 17 unfinished – three years after the entire project was supposed to be completed.
Ted Bennett, the chairman of the I-86 Coalition and the minority leader of the Chemung County Legislature, said much of Route 17 in Tioga County already meets interstate standards. He said a project is under way there that will extend I-86 to Broome County, where the real headache lies.
Just west of the I-81 and I-88 junctions in the Binghamton area lies Prospect Mountain and “Kamikaze Curve,” a near-90-degree turn coming down a hill. Major reconstruction is required there to make the roadway interstate eligible, Bennett said.
The cost of the three-phase project is expected to surpass $330 million, according to the state Department of Transportation. The contract bid was awarded last year for the first two phases, and completion is slated for 2015, according to DOT. The final phase isn’t expected to be finished for five or six years.
After the completion of the Prospect Mountain project, I-86 will connect with I-81 and I-88. I-81 is a major north-south highway that runs from northern New York to Tennessee.
East of Binghamton, there are approximately 30 separate upgrade projects – relatively minor compared to the Prospect Mountain project – that need to be completed, according to the I-86 Coalition. The cost of those projects is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to the coalition. Each is in various stages of development.
“They’re all in some stage of progressing,” Bennett said without venturing a guess as to when all the projects may be completed. “If it was one project and it was funded, it could be done it three to five years.”
But it’s not.

The funding issue
Funding failures have been blamed for the delay in completing the interstate, and many of the remaining projects are still without money, Bennett said.
“The DOT has done a great job when they’ve had funding,” Bennett said.
Bennett went to Albany earlier this month to lobby for funding. He spoke with the governor’s office, transportation officials and numerous senators and assemblyman.
“The reception in Albany was good,” Bennett said. “They do think it’s an important project.”
But, Bennett said, there were no funding promises like there were in 1999 when Pataki first spoke of finishing I-86 by 2009. Pataki left office at the end of 2006.
“Future governors should honor the commitments made by past governors,” Bennett said.
The Leader requested comment from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, but none was provided.
This week, Bennett plans to travel to Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties in hopes of drumming up support for the conversion project.
Last week, the Chemung County Legislature and Southern Tier Central Planning and Development Board passed resolutions asking for funding for I-86. Steuben and Schuyler counties are considering similar resolutions, Bennett said.
“They’re on top of it,” Bennett said. “They’re always on top of it.”

Why it’s important
While all local – Steuben and Chemung – work on I-86 is expected to be finished this year, the impact of an entirely completed interstate is of great interest locally.
An interstate highway puts a region on the map – literally. Bennett said the blue lines on a map that indicate an interstate highway attract industry and tourists. And when I-86 connects to I-81, I-87 and I-99 – a future interstate that officials expect to be completed by 2014 and will run from Painted Post through Pennsylvania – the area can expect even more benefits.
“It’s going to be really big for this area,” Bennett said.
According to Chemung County Executive Tom Santulli, I-86 is directly responsible for creating many hundreds – possibly multiple thousands – of jobs in Chemung County alone.
“There are two things that make this area, this region vibrant: One is the interstate, the other is the (Elmira-Corning Regional Airport),” Santulli said recently. “It’s almost impossible to compete in a global economy without infrastructure.”
In 2000, the I-86 Coalition estimated that a completed I-86 would generate more than $3 billion in economic activity by 2020.
A study done by the Appalachian Regional Commission found that for every dollar spent on the completion of the Appalachian Development High System – of which Southern Tier highways are a part – $3 in economic benefits can be expected.