Gov. Cuomo doesn’t rule out 219 Expressway extension

Posted on June 9th, 2016

ASHFORD — He didn’t say no. After presiding over the implosion of the Old Route 219 Bridge on Thursday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo was asked where he stood on extending the Route 219 Expressway further into Cattaraugus County.

“That’s something I know the commissioner is working on,” the governor replied, gesturing to New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll to address the issue.

Driscoll added, “That project, the entire Route 219 corridor, is north of a billion dollars. At this point in time, we don’t have those resources, but we are interested in working with our federal partners.”

There has been a previous Environmental Impact Statement conducted, Driscoll added.

“We are looking at an additional one,” he said. “It’s something we clearly will need some support from the federal government. But it is something we are very cognizant of. It is on our radar. We will continue with all the partners and see how we can address it.”

Asked later if that was a “no,” Driscoll replied that it was not.

That was good news to Meg Lauerman, executive director of Continental 1, the group advocating extending Route 219 in New York and other states, like Pennsylvania.

The Buffalo area needs access to a north-south interstate like other major cities in the state, she said. Continental 1 is pushing for a four-lane highway stretching from Toronto to Miami.

Lauerman said Driscoll’s reference to a new Environmental Impact Statement for Route 219 was good news.

“The EIS we’re talking about would be extremely useful” because it would give Route 219 supporters time to seek new funding under the (Fixing America’s Surface Transportation) Act, she said.

“It’s a big left,” Lauerman said of the money that will be needed to complete the Route 219 Expressway in New York. “But it will benefit our region for decades to come.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, has pushed the Cuomo administration to apply for F.A.S.T. Act funding, but the Route 219 EIS would have to be completed before making an application. That could take up to two years and cost $7 million or more.

The F.A.S.T. Act contains funds set aside for highway projects in rural areas and would seem to be tailored to the Route 219 Expressway between Peters Road in Ashford and Interstate 86 east of Salamanca.

State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, who was unable to attend the implosion of the bridge because the Senate is still in session, has also pushed Cuomo and Department of Transportation for funding for the EIS.

At his press conference, Cuomo was asked about the state and federal inquiries into the Buffalo Billion project, a cornerstone of his upstate investment. Buffalo Billion is a state government project led by Cuomo that aims to invest $1 billion in the Buffalo-area economy

“We will tolerate no improprieties,” the governor insisted. “If anyone did anything wrong, I will be the first to throw the book at them.”

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are questioning individuals — some with ties to Cuomo — in relation to the Buffalo Billion project — including Solar.

Cuomo has also named an attorney to investigate the matter on behalf of the governor’s office.

“Let’s get the facts first,” Cuomo told reporters. “Just because someone is asked questions doesn’t mean they are a target.

“Public integrity is everything. If anyone did anything wrong, they will be fully punished. Don’t pre-judge.”

The governor also urged the state Legislature to take up and pass legislation before the end of the session dealing with ethics, the opioid epidemic, breast cancer screening and treatment, and broadband access.

“If they leave Albany without passing ethics reform, I think it will be an insult to the people of the state,” Cuomo said, nothing the leaders of both the Assembly and Senate were recently convicted and sentenced to jail for abuse of their office.

Cuomo said the state also needs a plan to combat opioid abuse, from prevention to treatment.

“We need the insurance companies to step up and pay for treatment,” he said.

Cuomo would also like to see a bill to provide additional breast cancer screening and treatment programs for more women.

And, he said, “The single most sweeping thing we can do (for the economy) is to extend broadband across upstate New York. No one goes (to live) where they can’t have broadband.”