A note from Brian: Mayor Jeff Graham calls this a manufactured story that doesn't mean much. I disagree, obviously, and his description of how this story came to be is wrong.
Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith is warmer to the idea of pushing for the development of a highway between Watertown and Plattsburgh than his Nov. 8 opponent, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham.
“If it's going to benefit Watertown and this community, I would tend to support that,” Mr. Smith said of Interstate 98, a long-sought project that would that would cross the north country from I-81 to I-87.
Mr. Smith isn't sold on the idea, though, saying it requires further study. The mayor of Watertown could play a role in the development of the highway as part of his duties on Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's regional economic development council, a group of business and civic leaders that is responsible for putting together strategic plans and applying for grants.
Mr. Graham said he sees little interest in the project and has done little to advocate for it as a member of the council.
“There is no economic imperative to connect Watertown and Plattsburgh with a superhighway,” Mr. Graham wrote on his blog in response to a news report about the fact that the regional council will not include I-98 in its plans.
Mr. Graham said that Watertown's economy is oriented along the I-81 corridor with Syracuse, while Plattsburgh's economy follows the I-87 corridor to Albany.
“I suppose if you could snap your fingers and a road would appear, why wouldn't you do it?” Mr. Graham said. “But if you look at something that would cost six or eight billion dollars? I think there's other things we're focused on.”
Asked about the project's potential costs, Mr. Smith said: “That should always be a concern with any project, is the price tag associated with it. But what are the potential benefits? I don't know those answers right now.”
The men did agree, when asked, that the priorities they would push the economic development council to focus on are some of the crumbling buildings in the city, like the Masonic Temple on Washington Street or the former Ogilvie Foods site.
The City Council, of which both men are members, voted unanimously to ask the regional council to fund improvements to the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds and to fund a new theater in the Franklin Building.
“As Mercy comes into more focus, I imagine we'll be looking at that,” Mr. Graham said.
Mr. Smith also said he'd look into renewable energy programs and grants.
“That's going to benefit us down the road” by lowering energy costs, he said.