Getting from Albany to Binghamton more quickly was finally becoming reality 40 years ago, as money was appropriated and contractor bids sought for the long-anticipated Susquehanna Expressway, better known as Interstate 88. It would soon be changing a lot of the landscape in the Oneonta area, making some residents and school officials upset by part of the plans.
Gov. Nelson Rockefeller announced Tuesday, Aug. 3, 1971 that an additional 2.7-mile stretch of the four-lane highway would begin soon. This news came two months after a $13.5 million contract had been awarded for the construction of highway from West Davenport Road to the lower Main Street area of Oneonta. The plans announced in August, with an estimated cost of $12 million, extended the highway from near the bridge over the Susquehanna River to the far West End, to a rebuilt state Route 205.
According to The Oneonta Star of Aug. 4, "The new segment of I-88, characterized as 'Phase II' picks up at Main Street and will include some of the more spectacular work in the project near Oneonta. Particularly important is the straightening of a loop of the Susquehanna near the site of Corning Glass Works." Construction bids were set to be opened on Sept. 16.
"Included in Phase II is a new viaduct over the Delaware and Hudson Railroad in the vicinity of Ceperley Avenue and a re-routed Route 23-205 that will make a sweep through the West End near Wisteria Avenue, across the right-of-way of the now abandoned Southern New York Railroad, and rejoin the line of Route 23 near Cathedral Farms," or today's Cooperstown All Star Village.
In the Sixth Ward, this project would divert storm water underneath the expressway, as the road hugged the banks of the Susquehanna River and pass behind Riverside Elementary School, clipping off the end of Riverview Avenue.
The Oneonta Board of Education didn't like the idea of about eight acres of land being taken, severing Riverside School's playground. The state also planned to take out a large stand of trees on the northern side of the road, which is nearly 140 feet from the school building. The board prepared for a fight with the state Department of Transportation.
I-88 had been in the planning stages for several years, and as Riverside School was planned and opened in 1966, the DOT had been consulted. The board was told that the highway would be placed an adequate distance from the school. Five years after opening, this new highway plan was much different, and the DOT planned to cut or burn the trees.
Robert Hathaway, Oneonta Board of Education President, said the school board intended to bring every pressure possible on the DOT to force a revision of current plans, and said that State Senator Dalwin J. Niles had pledged his aid.
Some Sixth Ward residents were equally agitated, and at a school board meeting in mid-August the Star reported that an unnamed member of the audience commented that if the road goes through, it could be blockaded by "mothers with baby carriages in front of the bulldozers," pledging support of the school board's efforts to get the path of the highway changed.
The plans were kept as is, but the board continued to urge the DOT not to take the stand of trees, "for aesthetic and noise pollution reasons." It was reported on Saturday, Oct. 9, 1971 that the DOT had agreed to not take all trees near the school.
After numerous delays, the Oneonta section of I-88 opened to traffic in October 1974.
This weekend, the life and times of Oneonta in the 1840s.
City Historian Mark Simonson's column appears twice weekly. On Saturdays, his column focuses on the area during the Depression and before. His Monday columns address local history after the Depression. If you have feedback or ideas about the column, write to him at The Daily Star, or e-mail him at email@example.com. His website is www.oneontahistorian.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/marksimonson.