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NYS Exposed: New 'Taste NY' rest stop being torn apart

April 10, 2017 11:30 PM

ROCHESTER — Millions of your tax and toll dollars have been spent on another rest stop along the Thruway. The problem this time, eight months after it was built; parts of it are already being demolished!

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Thruway Authority haven’t been shy about spending money on new “I Love NY” signs to line the roadways, news visitor centers to welcome tourists and upgraded rest stops. The governor has told News10NBC he believes it helps the state look more appealing to tourists who pump hundreds of millions into the economy. Whether you believe the investment is worth it is a matter of opinion but it’s clear not all the projects have gone smoothly.

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As News10NBC has been reporting, the $10 million project at the Port Byron Heritage Park has been done for months but the Thruway Authority is still looking for a permanent operator for the site after a disagreement with the Canal Society of New York.

“I'm afraid it's going to be another New York State boondoggle,” says Susan Utter of Rochester who travels the Thruway often.

What’s happening in Port Byron Park might seem minor; though consider what’s going on with a different rest area further east. Back in July, a Taste NY shop and “Living History” area was opened near Lock E-13 in Fultonville, about 45 minutes west of Albany. The construction price of the project was $7.5 million. At the time, the governor, Thruway Authority and local leaders talked about what a great investment the project was for tourism.

In a statement, Director of the Canal Corporation Brian Stratton said, “I am so pleased with the hard work and planning that went into this project.”

Eight months later, a work permit posted in the window is marked “demolition” and dozens of construction workers can be seen ripping up sidewalks, railings and porches. The inside of the building has also been gutted. So, what happened? A spokeswoman for the NYS Thruway Authority tells News10NBC there is no issue or problem, the agency is simply improving an existing facility.

When these “upgrades” are done, the location will be operate year-round and include space for state police, more historical information about the region, a playground and electric car charging stations.

But if that was the plan, why didn’t the Thruway Authority do it eight months ago before opening the site? News10NBC did not get an answer to that question. When asked how much these upgrades would add to the price tag of the project, the Thruway Authority said that number is still being determined.

Sources tell News10NBC it’ll likely be at least a few million dollars more.

Senator Rich Funke chairs the Senate Tourism Committee. "We certainly want to encourage tourism because it's an important industry in the state of New York. One out of 12 jobs in our state are tourism-related but we have to figure out why in the world something that should be open, isn't open and why in the world something that was opened is being closed after millions of dollars have already been spent. It's ridiculous,” he says.

Since it appears the Thruway Authority isn’t willing to offer up the full story. "It's certainly worth holding hearings about and finding out. How did this happen? How were these decisions made? Why were they made? It's poor planning, it's poor use of taxpayer dollars and people should be irritated,” Senator Funke adds.

Thruway Authority statement on Lock E-13 Project

"This facility is a vital component of New York's tourism industry which has an economic impact of more than $100 billion and supports more than 900,000 jobs. More than 6.2 million tourists visited the region in 2015, up 13.6 percent since 2010. Building upon the momentum experienced since its grand opening last year, the expansion of the Lock E-13 Rest Area along the Thruway will serve as an anchor for showcasing information on world-class tourism destinations in the Mohawk Valley, promote New York State’s historic sites and continue to drive economic development in the region.

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

Copyright 2017 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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