Controversial even before its first yard of concrete was poured a half-century ago, Interstate 684 today remains controversial as well as crowded and (in spots) crumbling.
After years of organized pressure from local government leaders and private citizens, the state is addressing (in spots) the crumbling pavement, and it has a plan to address other traffic woes in northern Westchester and Putnam counties.
It has, in fact, several potential solutions for complaints about the six often-high-speed lanes running from Exit 5, where the Saw Mill River Parkway joins up in Katonah, to Exit 9, the lanes’ terminus at I-84 in Brewster. All of the proposed solutions were on public display this month during a workshop sponsored by the state Department of Transportation (DOT).
Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick welcomed about 50 people—residents, local government officials and DOT staffers and consultants—to the Dec. 12 meeting in the town hall courtroom. On display was what DOT called its I-684 & I-84 Transportation Corridor Study. It outlines a series of concepts designed more to gauge public reaction than provide a detailed blueprint of any future project.
Still, the proposals spelled out clear advantages as well as drawbacks for each. They focused on several approaches for adding lanes and for improving four interchanges along that stretch “to try to eliminate the tie-ups at pinch points like the intersections of I-684 and the Saw Mill River Parkway and the intersection at I-84,” Burdick said.
Those problems and a host of others were already on the minds of the supervisors of Somers, Bedford, Lewisboro, North Salem and Southeast when they met in 2014. Their concerns also included added traffic spilling onto local roads to escape highway congestion, a crumbling stretch of I-684 that hadn’t been resurfaced in decades (the project that is now underway) and more park-and-ride locations to encourage commuters to carpool, vanpool, bus or take a train to work (now among DOT’s proposals in the I-684 study).
Lewisboro Supervisor Peter Parsons, reporting to his Town Board after the supervisors’ 2014 meeting, said the goal of the “I-684 and I-84 Municipal Consortium” would be “working to improve the interstate roadways, traffic flow and the impacts they have on the towns involved.”
More than five years after that first meeting, says Somers Supervisor Rick Morrissey, “What you are witnessing...is the NYS DOT beginning to outline and ‘study’ many of the concerns we brought to their attention.”
The state is seeking the public’s input for a variety of schemes, including ways to accommodate growing traffic on that stretch of I-684, which already carries anywhere from 65,000 to 96,000 vehicles a day.
Additional driving surface would be achieved in several possible scenarios, each with escalating costs. New drive paths could be created either by using the highway shoulder for travel, pouring concrete for fourth driving lanes both north- and southbound, or creating a pair of flexible lanes that would change direction to meet rush-hour demands.
With a billion-dollar price tag, the priciest proposal would construct a pair of reversible “flex” arteries. Sandwiched between today’s travel lanes, the new construction would use existing median real estate or today’s travel lanes, largely separated by guardrails, would have to be realigned. Both flex lanes would be marked for travel in one direction only to meet peak demand.
At the other cost extreme, the “cheapest” of these solutions, at $500 million to $600 million, would convert the shoulders on both sides of the interstate into rush-hour-only drive lanes. But that approach would do nothing to improve off-peak operations and would require some enforcement mechanism.
Sliding comfortably between those extremes, a conventional fourth driving lane would be added in each direction. Estimated to cost $800 million to $900 million, the new concrete would come with a range of options for its use. It could simply give all drivers an additional path to their destination. But it might also encourage carpooling by restricting its use to high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) or buses and other specialized vehicles for mass transit.
Anyone who could not attend the workshop but wishes to address DOT’s proposals can contact Sandra Jobson, the study manager who conducted the Bedford workshop, at 845-431-5853 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.