What to do to grow?

Posted on May 13th, 2014

Olean Times Herald (May 13, 2014)

OLEAN — Besides pleas for fewer regulations, tax reform and increased manufacturing jobs, business leaders at a Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce roundtable with Rep. Tom Reed on Monday suggested the federal government fund a Route 219 environmental study.

St. Bonaventure University President Sister Margaret Carney told Rep. Reed, R-Corning, a recent meeting in Albany to help Continental One lobby the state Department of Transportation to perform the supplemental environmental impact studies (SEIS) to extend the Route 219 Expressway from Springville to Salamanca fell on “deaf ears.”

Rep. Reed told the group at Good Times of Olean that the Route 219 Expressway project is one of his top congressional projects, but that he has been frustrated by the state’s inaction on the environmental studies estimated to cost about $6.5 million and cover the route from the expressway’s terminus at Peters Road in the town of Ashford to Interstate 86 in Salamanca.

State officials have indicated the biggest obstacle to the project is the cost, an estimated $750 million, said Jeff Belt, CEO of SolEpoxy of Olean. “That is a tremendous amount of money for a road that doesn’t carry a lot of traffic. It’s a dangerous road.”

Mr. Belt, a West Valley native, said that since the state doesn’t appear to be ready to fund the Route 219 Expressway project at this time, the state “really should take a hard look at an improved Route 219. We definitely need to do something.”

Mr. Belt said he didn’t thinks safety and other improvements to the existing Route 219 would hurt the chances for a north/south expressway someday — particularly if it increased traffic.

He said an Ellicottville bypass would accomplish the goal of getting truck traffic out of the village of Ellicottville. “We need more access for skiers and fewer trucks,” he said. This bypass could cost around $30 million.

In the Salamanca area, access to Route 219 from Interstate 86 is very important, Mr. Belt explained. Building a bypass from I-86 in the town of Great Valley would ease truck traffic woes in Salamanca. The bypass could be used as a segment of the expressway, which would require Seneca Nation approval. The cost would be between $30 million and $40 million.

Mr. Belt said the Western New York Regional Economic Development Council, of which he is a member, receives a request each year to fund the SEIS for Route 219.

This would be more than all of the funding for projects in Cattaraugus County, he explained. In addition, the council is looking at projects that have a good chance of coming to fruition.

“If the federal government funded the SEIS, that would help,” Mr. Belt said, looking at Rep. Reed.

The congressman did not rule that out as a possibility, but said the state needs to express a desire to fund the project in the future.

Mr. Belt said he plans to meet soon with Ellicottville officials to discuss the possibility of a bypass around the village to keep trucks off the streets and make it more accessible to skiers and other visitors.

Rep. Reed also raised the prospect of a bi-state roundtable of businessmen and individuals from Cattaraugus County and McKean County in Pennsylvania, sponsored by him and Rep. Glenn Thompson of Howard, Pa.

Larry Sorokes, CEO of Greater Olean Area Chamber of Commerce, noted the area has more in common with its Bradford-area neighbors than with Buffalo to the north.

Rep. Reed said he would consult with Rep. Thompson on the idea of a cross-state economic summit and get back to the Chamber of Commerce with some ideas.

Rep. Reed also promoted his bill, the Reinvest in American Manufacturing Innovation (RAMI), among those attending the Chamber of Commerce roundtable.

The bipartisan bill, which he is co-sponsoring with Rep. Joseph McCarthy, D-Mass., has drawn attention from the White House as well.

The RAMI bill would help spur growth in advanced manufacturing through public/private partnerships including higher education and manufacturers of all sizes to promote best practices and advanced manufacturing challenges with federal support.

Meanwhile, Mr. Sorokes said he appreciated Rep. Reed taking the time to meet with local business leaders and get their input on a number of issues from taxes to over-regulation and infrastructure.

“It‘s also important for us to hear what is important to each other,” Mr. Sorokes said.

By Rick Miller