JOHNSTOWN - Fulton County officials announced Wednesday the federal government approved a $400,000 grant to do a preliminary study of a project to construct a bypass "connector" highway from state Thruway Exit 28 in Fultonville to Route 30A near the Johnstown Industrial Park.
Approval of preliminary funding for the estimated $50 million project - also known as the Fonda bypass project - was noted with enthusiasm at the Fulton County Board of Supervisors' Capital Projects Committee at the County Office Building.
"This is real good news," stated board Chairman Michael F. Gendron.
County Planning Director James Mraz told the committee he was informed by a state Department of Transportation email last week that the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration approved the $400,000 grant as part of a project to do the feasibility study. He said a formal letter awarding the grant may be coming.
He said the project has been discussed locally for several years.
Both Fulton and Montgomery counties must now come up with identical $50,000 shares for the study.
According to the Federal Highway Administration website, the agency announced Aug. 16 that the $400,000 "Fonda connector study" was approved as one of only three federal Transportation, Community and System Preservation Program projects in New York state. The website said the funds will "help study the proposed Fonda Connector Project in Montgomery and Fulton counties by identifying a preferred route, performing preliminary engineering and preparing a project cost estimate."
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The bypass connector study was part of a U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announcement of more than $363 million in grants to fund a wide variety of highway improvements - from interstate rehabilitation and reconstruction to technologies - in all 50 states that will "result in improved safety and reduced construction congestion."
The Fulton County Board of Supervisors in December had filed a joint application with Montgomery County to the federal government for the funding.
Fulton County Superintendent of Highways and Facilities Mark Yost and Montgomery County Director of Public Works Paul Clayburn worked together on submittal of the grant application.
Montgomery County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shayne Walters today said he was skeptical of the benefit for his county.
"It benefits Fulton County completely," he said. "It cuts Montgomery County off."
Walters said when Montgomery County went in on the grant application his county "didn't think it was going to go through." Now, he's not sure if its fiscally feasible to fund his county's $50,000 share.
Mraz said U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, and U.S. Rep. Bill Owens, D-Plattsburgh, had worked behind the scenes on the federal level to secure the grant.
If the project is built, trucks coming off the state Thruway might literally bypass the villages of Fonda and Fultonville by traveling the "connector" highway. Officials have said the highway would run from Thruway Exit 28 in Montgomery County, north for 3.5 miles and and connect to Route 30A near the Johnstown Industrial Park in Fulton County. He said the project would include construction of a new bridge to carry the Fonda bypass across the Mohawk River, CSX rail lines and Route 5.
Mraz said the estimated $500,000 total project cost just to explore the feasibility of the bypass would require Fulton and Montgomery counties to each kick in $50,000. The Fulton County Capital Projects Committee on Wednesday recommended adding the county's $50,000 share to its proposed 2013 capital plan.
Broadalbin Supervisor Joseph DiGiacomo asked about the advantages of the bypass highway.
Mraz said the immediate advantage for Fulton County would be "quicker access" for truck traffic to Thruway Exit 28. He said Montgomery County will also benefit by less "wear and tear" and "disruption" by trucks through the villages of Fonda and Fultonville.
"Finding the best route is really the reason to do the preliminary study," Mraz said.
He said he hasn't seen any documents about the $400,000 grant yet determining "how that money's going to flow." But he said it may involve the counties being reimbursed.
Mraz said in December the proposed project would achieve these four major objectives:
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.