By EMILY DREW
For the Express
The future of the Fonda Connector is in the hands of the state Department of Transportation, according to Fulton County Administrative Officer Jon Stead.
Stead said the Fulton County Board of Supervisors accepted the first completed report of the Fonda Connector Feasibility Study, completed by MJ Engineer and Land Surveying, at its meeting last week, but the county does not have any other plans to move forward. The connector would create a new route from Thruway Exit 28 to the Johnstown Industrial Park.
This comes after the Montgomery County Legislature adopted a resolution at its March 23 meeting officially opposing the Fonda Connector. At the time, legislators cited the negative financial impact the bypass would have on Montgomery County, specifically town of Mohawk, residents, where much of the construction would take place.
Stead said the state DOT first encouraged both counties to look at the feasibility of the project, and it would be up to them to move it forward.
“Really,” he said, “Fulton County doesn’t have any other plans to move forward to apply for any additional funds to go to the next stage of the project. That’s really something that the state DOT would have to pursue and encourage and reinitiate.”
“The county felt very strongly about the feasibility study,” Stead said, but, “There’s no plans to go any further.”
More than five years ago, Fulton County had attempted to get Montgomery County to contribute to the feasibility study. In 2011, grant funds revived talks about the project.
The federal government would pay 80 percent of the $500,000 it would take to complete the study, leaving Montgomery and Fulton counties to split a $100,000 local match. The now-defunct Montgomery County Board of Supervisors did not agree, and Fulton County footed the full bill.
The completed feasibility study from January identified three prospective routes for the limited access highway — one that would use the existing bridge and travel past the Fonda-Fultonville Central School District, and two that would require a new bridge to be built.
Montgomery County officials stated their negative opinion about the identified routes last year.
County Executive Matthew Ossenfort and District 4 Legislator Ryan Weitz issued a joint letter of opposition last August, stating the project would have a “a profound negative impact” on town of Mohawk residents and businesses in downtown Fonda. The pair also said the project would be a “colossal waste of political capital” and conclusions reached in the feasibility study seemed “contrived and predetermined.”
In addition to the identified routes in the draft study released last year, it also stated improving the current route from Fonda to Johnstown would be too costly and affect too many properties with curb improvements and widening streets. The final draft lists the same results.
Ossenfort and Weitz have since maintained their stance.
“I stand by those comments from late last year that this entire study, it was a colossal waste of half-a-million dollars,” Weitz said in March.
“I think when you look at projects based on their merits, what they would bring to the table and what the negatives are, I really feel putting a limited highway connector road in Montgomery County, that would really affect the character of the town of Mohawk, especially with some of the routes passing through some of the most pristine, most beautiful areas of Montgomery County,” Ossenfort has said.
Montgomery County voted unanimously against the connector in late March, followed by the village of Fultonville the following week.
Mayor Robert Headwell had said the bypass would not benefit Fultonville and diminish sources of revenue for the area. He said the connector, while cutting down on truck traffic, would not provide any incentive for travelers to stop at local businesses.
Fonda Mayor William Peeler, however, has said there is a real need for an alternative route through downtown Fonda, and reiterated his stance at the village’s April meeting.
Peeler said he wants local businesses to allow customers to enter zip codes into their systems to see how much traffic is from the Fulton County area, or how much is local commuters from Tribes Hill or Palatine.
“I said, let’s do a survey. You prove to me that all this business that the village of Fonda does is coming from Johnstown, N.Y., Gloversville, N.Y., up north. I think you’re going to find out you’re wrong. Because on my estimate you’re looking at about 10 percent that is transient in this village. The rest of it is local,” Peeler said.
He also said if a lot of the commercial traffic is diverted to the bypass, many drivers in private vehicles might be more apt to travel through Fonda to avoid the tractor trailers.
Planned improvements to the village will also make it more appealing, he said, referring to the village’s in-development comprehensive plan.
“It’s not enjoyable to try to get through the village of Fonda, but you get the commercial traffic out of here, we pretty it up a little bit, it’s going to be more and more enjoyable to come through the village,” Fonda trustee Walter Boyd said.
The opposition to the connector, though, will not affect the development of the regional business park planned for nearly 280 acres of land currently in the town of Mohawk, according to Stead.
He said many people have linked the two projects together, since feasibility talks for both occurred at about the same time, but the connector was never intended to provide access to the business park.
“I think the (bypass) is really more centered around trying to improve road connections through Fonda, rather than connecting anything to the regional business park. That wasn’t really the purpose of it,” Stead said.
The business park, he said, is a “very viable project regardless of the corridor connector,” and that it is not intended for heavy commercial traffic.
Mohawk officials and residents have expressed concern over the business park’s effect on the quality of life for residents within the town, citing increased traffic, aging infrastructure and noise and light pollution. The project would also take up agriculturally zoned land, which is against the town’s comprehensive plan.
The park’s development is currently awaiting a decision from the state Department of Environmental Conservation as to which entity – Montgomery County, Fulton County, Johnstown, or Mohawk – will take the lead on the environmental review.