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$3.2 MILLION EARMARKED FOR I-86 IMPROVEMENTS, BACKERS TOLD

Supporters of the full I-86 designation along 381 miles of the 70-year-old Route 17 learned Monday that the whole corridor would receive $3.2 million in economic benefits from a proposed $500 million in road improvements within eight years.

Southern Tier West Regional Planning and Development Board Director Donald Rychnowski told about 15 I-86 Coalition members and supporters of the interstate designation that the numbers are intended to be conservative.

"We didn't want anyone to say it was inflated and that we had overestimated the impact," he said.

The figures are part of the final draft of an economic benefits study by Wilber Smith and Associates, whose representative was grounded Monday morning in North Carolina by bad weather and was unable to deliver the final report or give the planned Monday morning presentation to the I-86 Coalition in Salamanca.

Russell Patterson, on the staff of Southern Tier West, helped Rychnowski give an overview of some of the information and distributed copies of an executive summary.

The study, which is to be presented this morning at a similar meeting for corridor community representatives in Binghamton, also states the 10 I-86 counties in the Southern Tier and Hudson Valley would see 3,455 new full-time permanent jobs unrelated to the road construction. The population is also projected to expand by 6,281 new residents.

Patterson said the new transportation infrastructure would help attract additional residents into the western I-86 counties.

If the improvements are delayed over a 20-year construction period, those numbers will be slightly lower -- at 3,273 new jobs and 5,335 in increased population, the study says. But the analysis also concludes that I-86 will benefit the whole state in the form of an extra $82 million from increased sales tax revenues.

"The thing that will help push this through the (state) Legislature is what they see for the state," Rychnowski said, adding the possibility for additional sales tax revenues will be a key selling point for legislators who otherwise have no interest in the region.

Rychnowski said about 50 local elected officials who are in Albany for a state Association of Counties meeting are expected to join other supporters of the I-86 designation in the capitol today to make a case for state funding for the full 381-mile upgrade.

Recently the I-86 designation was conferred upon 177 miles of the Southern Tier Expressway from the Pennsylvania border to Corning's east exit. Some portions of the remaining downstate section Route 17 that is yet to be designated must be evaluated for new exit spacing, straightening and other changes to meet interstate standards.

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