To The Editor:
YESeleven, a local advocacy group in favor of upgrading U.S. Route 11, has applauded the North Country Regional Economic Development Council for last month advancing the idea of starting to plan for bypass development in the Canton-Potsdam Route 11 corridor.
In a letter to the Council, YESeleven outlined the details of its view of what such a planning process should look like. The group recommended that the process be regional in scope and suggested the St. Lawrence County Planning Board assume the lead role.
The idea of creating a Greater Canton-Potsdam Regional Planning Council was also advanced. The aim of the planning process would be to prepare a coordinated comprehensive plan to guide future growth of the Canton-Potsdam area.
The groups letter, signed by co-coordinators John Casserly and John Danis, states that Bypasses will play a huge role in giving shape to the pattern of our community, so great attention should be given to how they contribute to creating the pattern we want.
The planning process YESeleven envisions would be set up to maximize public participation to ensure that the plan reflects the values of the people of the area. Maintaining and enhancing the quality of our community so that everyone here has a reasonable opportunity for a good life is what were seeking.
A copy of the letter is attached.
October 26, 2013
North Country Regional Economic Development Council
Dulles State Office Building
Watertown, NY 13601
Our group, YESeleven, is elated that the NCREDC has advanced the idea of developing highway bypasses around Canton and Potsdam (North Country Development Council Asks State to Look Into Potsdam, Canton Bypasses, North Country NOW, Sept. 20, 2013). Our enthusiasm is heightened by the Councils promotion of a bypass planning process that is inclusive of the communities involved as well as regional interests.
Since our formation over two years ago, we have recognized that thru traffic, and thru truck traffic in particular, is diminishing the quality of community life in Route 11s urban centers. In addition, these communities act as bottlenecks that reduce the efficiency of the highway itself.
We are also witnessing increased traffic volumes within the Route 11/Canton-Potsdam corridor, coincidental with new commercial and other development along the highway. These factors combine to further impede efficient traffic flow and compromise highway safety.
There is little question that well-planned bypasses would improve local community life as well as traffic efficiency. Enhancing the local climate for economic growth would be a likely side effect of well-planned bypass development.
The State DOT has supported the bypass concept for many years, most recently in The Northern Tier Expressway: Route 11 Corridor Study, December 2008. What the DOT will tell us, however, is that theres no money for bypasses at this time or in the foreseeable future.
Their estimate for a bypass around Canton is $50-80 million (conversation with regional DOT officials, August 12, 2013). A bypass around Potsdam would probably cost more, and a bypass around the entire Canton-Potsdam region could easily cost $200 million or more.
Given the lack of available funding, it will take an enormous effort to turn the bypass concept into a reality. Its also important to note that bypasses are not a panacea for the areas transportation problems. Other improvements will be needed to make Route 11 safer and more efficient.
While we are pleased with the idea of aggressively moving forward with the bypass concept, we are also aware that a poorly planned bypass can fail to meet expectations and create new problems of its own. The DOT addressed the issue of planning for bypass development in the 2008 report.
From published reports reviewed for this study on the before and after effects of bypasses on rural communities, the research shows that a bypassed community can flourish if significant advanced preparation, planning, and cooperation among all affected individuals, businesses and governmental entities is undertaken. If the bypass is constructed without consideration of these issues, the impacts could be detrimental to the bypassed community. (NTE Study Executive Summary, p 14) Some serious local planning will be needed if we are to optimize the benefits bypass development could bring to our community.
Our observations are that community plans in the Canton-Potsdam area are outdated and do not address the bypass issue, even though the topic regularly comes up in on the street conversations.
Also, local land use regulations are favorable toward more commercial development along the entire ten-mile stretch of Route 11 that connects Canton and Potsdam, further undermining its viability as a primary arterial highway. Existing town and village planning boards simply do not have the capability to undertake the kind of coordinated planning needed to determine the best bypass routes or initiate land use strategies designed to protect existing downtown districts, established neighborhoods and outlying countryside.
Without coordinated planning, the features that define our community are at risk – our historic architecture, farms and agricultural lands, wildlife habitats and corridors, and other natural areas.
To whom, then, should we look to take on the challenging task of comprehensive planning for bypass development? We could leave it to the DOT and limit local input to reacting to their proposals. However, with no money for bypasses it is doubtful the DOT will expend resources to plan them. In our view, a more viable approach would be to do the planning ourselves.
We could initiate a comprehensive planning process on our own, the aim of which would be to formulate a plan that would build the kind of sustainable community in which we would want to live. Community is the key word here. Bypasses will play a huge role in giving shape to the pattern of our community, so great attention should be given to how they contribute to creating the pattern we want.
In March 2012 YESeleven attempted to jumpstart such a planning process in Canton with a proposal to undertake a Canton Bypass Planning Project. The proposal requested $58,600 from the St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency. The proposed project expanded on an academic project undertaken by an engineering student at Clarkson University.
Our proposal outlined a methodology involving the formation of a Canton Bypass Working Group that would give all stakeholders in the Canton community access to the project planners. At the time the proposal was submitted, the St. Lawrence County political hierarchy was in the grip of a campaign promoting the development of a $5 billion four-lane interstate highway across northern New York.
At best, upgrading Route 11 with bypasses and other improvements was a low priority and our proposal was not funded. However, the methodology it outlined may deserve consideration now that the clamor over the interstate highway concept has subsided. The NCREDCs advocacy of bypasses in the Canton-Potsdam corridor is clear evidence of a paradigm shift.
As our community prepares to move forward with the concept of upgrading Route 11 with bypasses and other improvements, we should begin thinking of the scope, structure and organization of our local planning. We suggest that the following three principles guide our thinking in this regard.
1) The geographical scope of our planning should be regional. It is obvious that the work ahead is beyond the capability and jurisdiction of any one town or village. Canton and Potsdam are in many ways sister communities and our planning should reflect this fact. The St. Lawrence County Planning Board immediately comes to mind as the most logical existing agency to organize and direct the envisioned planning process. An option to consider in this regard is the formation of a new planning organizaton, eg, the Greater Canton-Potsdam Regional Plannning Council, pursuant to Section 239-h of the General Municipal Law.
2) The breadth of our planning should be comprehensive. The work ahead is about much more than building bypasses. The future land use fabric and pattern of the greater Canton-Potsdam community is at stake. Contemporary issues such as the looming effects of climate change and the local food movement should be taken into account and merged with traditional issues such as open space conservation and economic development.
3) Our planning process should maximize public participation. To the fullest possible extent the regional comprehensive plan should reflect the values of the people of the Canton-Potsdam community.
Thank you for considering the thoughts and ideas weve shared herein. Maintaining and enhancing the quality of our community so that everyone here has a reasonable opportunity for a good life is what were seeking. Highway bypasses could be an important part of this picture. Undertaking the planning process were advocating appears to be in synch with the process the NCREDC has suggested. In our view, moving forward with the initiation of such a process would be the most significant action our community could take to secure the state and federal funding that will be needed to make this dream a reality.
Very truly yours,
John Casserly and John Danis