The long-sought state resurfacing of I-684 in Katonah, a stretch of pavement crumbling under a half-century’s relentless pounding of cars and trucks, quietly became a reality this week.
Without the fanfare that routinely accompanies major public works projects, signs went up on the interstate last week announcing the scheduled start of work this past Monday, Aug. 26. Bedford Supervisor Chris Burdick, who for years has pressured the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to make the needed repairs, said in a statement that the work could be completed, weather permitting, by late November or early December.
Burdick was not available to discuss the repaving last week, but in his weekly newsletter, the supervisor said he was “thrilled” by the state’s action.
A DOT spokesperson, Heather M. Pillsworth, confirmed the project’s start in an email late last week. “Paving will be done at night and require lane closures, starting with the northbound center and left lanes,” she said.
At an estimated cost of more than $9 million, Morano Brothers Corp. (Croton-on-Hudson) has been contracted to fill potholes, repair cracks and repave the run-down roadway between Route 35 and Harris Road. That stretch, roughly a mile and a half to two miles of heavily traveled interstate, has long drawn criticism from public officials, private citizens and first responders as unsafe and long overdue for resurfacing.
This week’s start of that work capped a frustrating, two-decade effort by Bedford to prod the state into action. In the campaign, hundreds of residents petitioned Albany, demanding attention to the road’s defects, and the Town Board repeatedly and formally called for the same thing.
At least twice the town was assured that money for the rehab was on the way only to see that funding siphoned off by higher priority projects elsewhere. The abrupt reversals burned Burdick. In 2017, he remembers, the supervisor had proudly announced the state’s commitment then was left “with egg on my face” when the money was diverted.
Perhaps recalling such abrupt shifts in DOT priorities, politicians were positively low key this time as an I-684 overhaul at last became a reality. Ordinarily, a multi-million-dollar highway restoration is worthy of trumpets and breathless press releases. In this case, though the rehab work had already hit DOT’s drawing boards by May, been put out to bid by June and had contracts negotiated weeks ago, the official channels of communication remained markedly silent.
It fell instead to Facebook to make the community aware—and give motorists at least some advance notice—that the graders and pavers were on their way to fix the troubled road.
“Finally—finally— we are going to be able to pave this,” Bedford Councilman Don Scott announces in the video, shot beside the busy interstate, its traffic thundering in the background. “Construction will begin in just a couple of weeks,” he says in the Aug. 19 posting.
By contrast, Pillsworth, DOT’s regional information officer, only confirmed the repaving in a terse, one-paragraph email.
Sent last Thursday, Aug. 23, two days after a reporter’s query about Scott’s Facebook post, the email credited a handful of state legislators with finding the millions to pay for highway repairs. They included two Westchester senators, Peter Harckham of Katonah and Shelley Mayer of Yonkers, and Assemblyman David Buchwald of White Plains.
Asked last week about their ability to pry loose the needed money—normally an open invitation to political chest thumping—both senators, through press aides, had nothing to say. Each promised future information, perhaps as early as this week.
Such a close-mouthed approach could suggest that politicians, having been once burned by DOT, are twice cautious when it comes to heralding highway projects.
The lawmakers appear to prefer works clearly in progress. Mayer, for example, was out with a press release last month announcing a million-dollar repaving of Central Park Avenue in Yonkers. But her news flash came more than a month after the work had begun and only weeks before its scheduled completion
Buchwald, for his part, also issued no formal bulletin but did provide, in response to a query, the $9.2 million price tag.
Scott, in his Facebook posting, thanked “everyone who made enough noise, and I do mean we had to make some noise, to get this road taken care of.”
Indeed, concerned residents and elected officials have been making noise for some 20 years. But over the past year and a half, some local voices were growing more insistent.
Dean Pappas was chief of the Katonah Volunteer Fire Department in spring 2018 when he warned that the unsafe interstate put more than his firefighters in jeopardy. In a letter to Buchwald, he noted that the department’s heavy fire and EMS vehicles had to lower their speed to navigate what he called Third World conditions on I-684. That slowed response times, he said, adding to the peril of anyone caught up in the emergency.
A few months later, in September, Peter Nardone, a Katonah resident and professional engineer, continued the citizen drumbeat. In a letter to DOT officials, he detailed the specific hazards inherent in the highway’s worn pavement.
Insisting a high-friction asphalt overlay was “urgently required,” Nardone pointed out, among other things, that the existing pavement, poured in 1969, was “worn down and has lost the majority of its cement finish and texture thereby reducing friction.” Less friction means drivers have less control of their vehicles.
In November, Burdick summoned regional DOT officials, including Lance MacMillan, director of the agency’s Poughkeepsie district office, to a meeting with the Town Board as well as the area’s Albany lawmakers, and an in-person presentation by Nardone of his roadway studies.
The supervisor, backed by the board and legislators, urged DOT to make I-684’s repair a “must-do” project.
In a February resolution, the board unanimously implored local lawmakers to “include sufficient funds in the New York State budget for the long overdue repair of this dangerous stretch” of highway. But when fiscal 2020’s spending plan went into effect April 1, none of its $175 billion had been earmarked for Katonah’s troubled road.
Still, as Burdick addressed the annual Katonah Forum in May, he expressed cautious hope that repaving work might yet take place this year. It appears now that the supervisor clearly was correct about the work; it remained unclear going into this week just how the state is paying for it.