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Cuomo pleases supporters and opponents of ‘rooftop highway’

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Both sides of the Interstate 98 debate heard pieces of what they wanted from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday in Potsdam.

Gov. Cuomo said the government does not have enough money to pay for an interstate linking Watertown to Plattsburgh and told supporters to get an economic reality check. But he also allowed that the proposed limited-access highway might be a good idea that should be studied.

“I think it’s positive,” said Wade A. Davis, chairman of the Northern Corridor Transportation Group, which favors construction of I-98. “It says exactly what’s out there. The state doesn’t have a lot of money. He left the door open. We’re pleased the governor thinks the highway may be a good idea. There’s more than adequate justification for a highway in Northern New York.”

John W. Danis, a spokesman for YESeleven, a grass-roots organization that prefers improvements to Route 11 before determining whether an interstate is needed, took Gov. Cuomo’s comments differently.

“I’m glad to hear the governor shut it down,” Mr. Danis said.

Mr. Danis said he thought Gov. Cuomo walked a fine line, using a lack of money to construct an interstate as a way of avoiding full support or opposition. “It was a well-reasoned calculation on Cuomo’s part,” Mr. Danis said.

The comments were a victory of sorts for I-98 supporters, Mr. Danis said.

“They have finally got the governor’s attention,” he said.

I-98 supporter Mark J. Bellardini agreed with Mr. Danis on that point.

“It’s obviously on the governor’s mind,” he said. “That’s what I got out of it. He said we’re constrained but it’s a good idea.”

The project — sometimes called the rooftop highway — has been kicked around for years but has taken on a recent resurgence because it would bring construction jobs to a bad economy and help attract industry for the long term, Mr. Davis said.

“We need highway infrastructure to do its part,” he said.

Meanwhile, the $6.3 million in federal money I-98 supporters thought was earmarked for the interstate is instead being used to plan improvements to Route 11, but there is no date for construction.

“We don’t have the money for things we need to do,” state Department of Transportation spokesman Michael R. Flick said.

A lack of money for I-98 will not put an end to the discussion of the need for an interstate, Mr. Danis predicted.

“It’s always risen and fallen,” he said. “It’ll probably quiet things down for a little while.”

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