No sooner than the construction plans for Interstate 88 were on again in March 1971, they were off again.
Readers of The Oneonta Star’s March 11 edition found out, “The Transportation Department Wednesday broke its three-month freeze on new highway building and called for construction bids on the Susquehanna Expressway, Interstate Rt. 88.
“It was the first new highway project scheduled since Dec. 10, when the Transportation Department cancelled all bid openings amidst reports that the department was out of highway building funds for the 1970-71 fiscal year.”
The department announced that bids would be opened on the Oneonta section in April. Plans for this highway had been on paper since the mid-1960s, to go around the city outskirts, not directly through it.
Only days later, it was reported on March 15, “Construction of a 120-unit Holiday Inn complex on Oneonta’s South Side will begin in early May, and is scheduled to open on April 1, 1972.” We know it as the Quality Inn at 5206 State Route 23. “The complex will include banquet and meeting facilities for about 650 people.” It had been planned for the site for nearly a year, over a half-mile from the interchange to the highway.
While optimism was returning locally for construction to begin, dark clouds began to move in again quickly.
As The Star reported on March 23, the project, hoped to link the Capital Region with Binghamton, “… may turn out to be a four-lane, high-speed, 2.7 mile highway to nowhere.” This first stretch around Oneonta covered an area from Emmons to what is now the access area near state Route 205 in the far West End.
“According to sources here,” the dateline being Albany, “the State Transportation Department has enough money to start the expressway with a short strip through Oneonta. But, the sources said, the road will end when the money does — somewhere on the outskirts of town.
“Governor Rockefeller said as much Monday when he told the Legislature that the state’s highway building money is nearly exhausted and, if it’s not replenished, highway construction will stop next year.
“The governor wants the Legislature and the voters to approve a new $2.5 billion transportation bond issue to replenish the building fund.
“‘If he doesn’t get it,’ said one aide, ‘the Susquehanna Expressway is going to be the shortest interstate highway ever built.’”
Oneonta’s contracted portion of the highway was $17 million.
Oneonta Mayor James F. Lettis was not pleased, as reported in The Star’s March 24 edition.
“Lettis said yesterday he will write to Governor Nelson Rockefeller strongly protesting delays on the entire Susquehanna Expressway program until after voters act on a proposed … transportation bond issue to replenish the building fund.
“‘It’s the same old story we heard in 1967,’ Lettis said yesterday.
“The mayor said that Oneonta voters were told that if they supported Rockefeller’s 1967 bond issue, modernization of Route 7 could be accomplished.
“That $2.5 billion bond borrowing plan included $1.25 million for highways. Oneonta voters supported it, 2,300 to 1,400 and it won statewide approval.
“Now state officials apparently are getting ready to tell voters that unless the 1971 … bond issue is passed the highway will be stalled except for the Oneonta portion.”
The second delay was sealed, as Star readers on March 30 learned, “For the second time in less than four months, opening of bids for the Oneonta portion of Interstate 88 has been postponed.
“Reason given for this delay was a federal-state log-jam over President Nixon’s attempts to curb wage-price increases in the construction industry.
“Six weeks ago, the President suspended provisions of the Davis-Bacon Act, which required contractors on federally funded projects to pay prevailing wage rates.” In addition to the aforementioned state funding, there was federal funding involved for construction.
For the time being, hopes were for a quick solution, but none were immediately in sight.
This weekend: Gold in those Roseboom hills in 1931?
Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson’s column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area before 1950. His Wednesday columns address local history 1950 and later. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/.
Have you ever had a question about a history-making event or a prominent person in our area and didn't know where to find the answer? Well, we've got an expert who might be able to help you. Historian Mark Simonson has spent many years chronicling major local happenings, and he's ready and willing to dive into The Daily Star archives for answers, which will appear in this newspaper and online at www.thedailystar.com.
Write to him at "Ask Mark," The Daily Star, 102 Chestnut St., Oneonta, NY 13820 or email him at email@example.com.