By Jack Ampuja
Continental 1 has been a priority in Western New York transportation circles for decades. The 1,500-mile trade route through Buffalo linking Toronto to Miami is a vision of manufacturers and logistics companies, providing the opportunity to utilize our region as a key distribution point for U.S. East Coast cargo.
For New York, the portion of the route that needs to be addressed is a small but vital piece of the overall puzzle – a 20-mile stretch along Route 219 between Springville and I-86. Over time, the project has had funding obstacles and political challenges, but supporters have never lost sight of the goal.
At this point in time approximately 90 percent of Continental 1 is already completed as a functioning divided highway.
Over the last several months, stars have aligned on an advantageous opportunity to move the initiative forward, as potential funding and regional political support have materialized together.
While the advocacy for years has centered on the environmental work for the entire remaining New York State portion of Route 219, it is now clear that a specific focus on Section 12 – a $95 million, 1.8-mile project on a critical stretch of highway just north of I-86 – is an achievable strategy for moving forward. In every proposal for the completion of Route 219 throughout the years, Section 12 has been a consistent priority.
Why so critical? New York’s Southern Tier, particularly Cattaraugus County, has fought the uphill battle of a changing global marketplace. Manufacturers and the talent that drives them require sufficient mobility to survive and grow, or they will go elsewhere. An incomplete Route 219 cuts off the community’s access from Buffalo and the rapidly growing Canadian economy. That same barrier hinders Southern Tier tourism destinations in pulling from the area’s largest population centers. It’s one road, but it’s an impactful one.
But while the economic importance of Route 219 is without doubt critical to the Southern Tier, completion of Section 12 is widely believed by logistics industry stakeholders to be a catalyst for all of Western New York. While our region, due to its international border and “one-day’s drive” proximity to the bulk of North America’s population, is well-positioned geographically to compete globally for freight, our glaring shortcoming is a reliable north-south corridor.
Currently, there is potential infrastructure funding available through the state’s settlement with BNP Paribas, and political support for this project throughout the region. Opportunities to drive positive impact for an entire region and create good-paying construction jobs in an area of the state that needs them badly don’t come around often. Albany should move to make this one happen.
Jack Ampuja is president of Supply Chain Optimizers and a board member of Continental 1.