Like neighbors shaking hands across a fence, the governors of New York and Pennsylvania on Thursday snipped a red, white and blue ribbon at the state line to open the final section of the Southern Tier Expressway.
Gov. Pataki and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge stood on their respective sides as they ceremoniously opened the newest stretch of Route 17, between Sherman and North East, Pa.
"There is no question that having the Southern Tier Expressway open for its entire length now will help to bring jobs, industry and investment to this region. But even more important, too often people risked and lost their lives. More than 20 people were killed in this one (two-lane) stretch because the highway not only was inefficient from the standpoint of moving commerce, but it was dangerous in terms of moving people," Pataki said.
"This is just the end of Phase 1," Pataki said. He added that he was confident that working in partnership with the State of Pennsylvania, and with Rep. Amo Houghton, R-Corning, and Sens. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., "we will see this become Interstate 86."
Ridge pointed out the two states compete for economic growth, but also cooperate.
"Competition is good and healthy, but while we are competing, we also understand that so much economic development these days is regional," Ridge said. "This highway is good for New York, Pennsylvania and for the entire region."
Construction of 9.3 miles of the two westbound lanes from Sherman to the state line cost $19.1 million. Building the additional seven miles in Pennsylvania cost $14.9 million.
Both portions were built by Cold Spring Construction of Akron, which finished the highway nearly a full year ahead of schedule.
The expressway was first envisioned in the 1950s as a "quick way" to New York City across the Southern Tier. The final section had been just two lanes since the early 1980s.
Chautauqua County Sheriff Joseph Gerace said, "This has been one of the deadliest highways, for its age, in the country. We have had 23 fatalities on that two-lane portion since 1984, and it is really a relief to have this finished so we can stop the carnage."
Among the estimated 250 people on hand for the event was State Sen. Jess J. Present, R-Bemus Point, who noted that "I have probably been to more groundbreakings and road-openings on the expressway than anyone, and each one has been important, but none more than this event today."
An Allegany County contingent turned out wearing T-shirts with buttons urging the state highway to be redesignated as an interstate.
A man who had a relative killed by a drunken driver on the two-lane stretch of road was passing out petitions seeking signatures for mandatory jail sentences for driving while intoxicated convictions.