The next phase of construction on the Route 219 Expressway will be delayed for up to four years while the state transportation officials conduct new wetlands studies.
The state Department of Transportation announced Thursday it planned to withdraw its wetlands permit application from consideration by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and would begin work on a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Work will continue on the first 3.5-mile section south of Springville that got under way in April 2007. That includes the area in Erie County just north of Cattaraugus Creek that was affected by a landslide, according to Skip Carrier, director of communications for the state Department of Transportation.
The price tag for the first section from Route 39 in Springville to Peters Road in the town of Ashford in Cattaraugus County will jump by ,15 million due to the landslide. The total cost, including the twin bridges over the Zoar Valley gorge is projected to be ,101 million, Mr. Carrier said.
The additional environmental review is expected to cost between ,4 million and ,6 million and take three years to complete.
The Department of Transportation had until today to notify the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Buffalo District Office whether it wanted to proceed with the review of the state's 404 wetlands permit application or withdraw it and prepare the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
The Corps of Engineers' concerns grew out of the expansion of the size of wetlands areas in the next expressway section between Peters Road and Snake Run Road in Ashford Hollow. The Corps saw a significant increase in the number of acres of wetlands in the state's 404 application compared to the wetlands acreage in the Environmental Impact Statement.
That concern by the Corps of Engineers expanded to other sections south from Snake Run Road in Ashford Hollow to Salamanca, where the expressway is due to link up with Interstate 86.
Mr. Carrier said a new environmental review process will expedite the project and avoid future costly delays by allowing the Corps of Engineers to participate in the review.
"If they have concerns, we'll know earlier in the process and hopefully avoid any permitting agencies to come up with additional delays and additional costs," he said in a telephone interview Thursday. "We'll be engaging the Seneca Nation of Indians early on as well," Mr. Carrier said.
The state has been limited in what it could do without an agreement with the Seneca Nation to cross the Allegany Territory east of Salamanca.
Mr. Carrier said it was expected that the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on the remaining sections would actually "shorten the total time frame necessary" to complete the project by having the Corps of Engineers and other agencies involved earlier in the review process and avoid similar delays.
"We are continuing to pursue it (expressway)," Mr. Carrier said. "We think this is a quicker path to the end." He did not have an estimate on how long it could take to complete the 28-mile expressway from Springville to Salamanca.
U.S. Rep. John R. "Randy" Kuhl said Thursday he planned to discuss the Route 219 project with Gov. Eliot Spitzer later that day. He met with Corps of Engineers officials last week in order to get a clearer picture of the options.
"Today I was informed that the New York Department of Transportation will soon be announcing that they will be performing a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Sections 6-12 of the Route 219 freeway project, which will include the bottom end of Section 5 all the way to I-86 in Salamanca," the congressman said.
"It is projected that the EIS will take three years to complete at a cost of ,4 to ,6 million. This supplemental EIS is necessary in order to receive a Section 404 environmental wetlands permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and move forward with Route 219 construction," he said. "Two years ago I fought to ensure that the completion of Route 219 was not a pipe dream. With this forthcoming announcement by NY DOT, I am pleased that my efforts as well as those of all who have fought with me will see this project completed," Rep. Kuhl said.
"With this decision, the New York Department of Transportation has decided to do whatever is necessary to complete the Route 219 freeway, and to do so by following all the environmental regulations so this job is done right. I promise that as the EIS begins, I will continue to fight for the successful completion of Route 219," he said.
"I am hopeful that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the NY DOT will follow the environmental streamlining process as required by the SAFE-TEA LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users) highway bill for a supplemental EIS and work together to move the process forward in an expeditious manner," Rep. Kuhl said.
State Sen. Catharine M. Young, r-Olean, said, "The good news is the state hasn't abandoned its commitment to complete 219. The bad news is that the project is delayed by three more years. Everyone should work together to finish the SEIS process as quickly as possible."
Sen. Young added, "The DOT's decision to go forward was spurred by the hundreds of citizens who wrote letters and e-mails of support. Our voices have made a difference. Moving ahead on 219 will bring more jobs, opportunities and prosperity to the entire region.
"Investing in infrastructure projects such as this is critical to revitalizing the upstate economy. The new roadway will be much safer because of its design. Horrific accidents have taken lives and limbs and the current road needs to be upgraded," Sen. Young said.