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Waste Watchers: State pours millions into brand new rest area... again

June 12, 2017 06:34 PM

CANAJOHARIE – Months after one grand opening, a rest area near Canajoharie had another ribbon cutting Monday. The facility cost $7.5 million to build, and then the state poured millions more into the brand new building. NewsChannel 13 wanted to find out why the state was spending your tax dollars this way. State officials pointed to tourism as the reason for pumping millions more dollars into the formally part-time facility.

Less than a year after it opened, the Lock E-13 Rest Area in Canajoharie already has had millions of dollars in renovations, and it also has a new name: the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center. Just months after the rest area had opened, the state cut the ribbon on the new Long Island Welcome Center, which was built by the New York State Department of Transportation. That prompted the Thruway Authority to ask for millions more dollars to renovate, and rebrand, the rest area into the Mohawk Valley Welcome Center.

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We saw the rest area undergoing heavy construction back in March, as crews were working on the outside and had gutted the inside.

“The plan was changed after the Long Island Welcome Center opened, the plan was changed for this welcome center at that point,” asked reporter Ben Amey. “Yes,” responded Bill Finch, Acting Executive Director of the New York State Thruway Authority.

“What we learned in Long Island was we can create more jobs by promoting tourism, by building welcome centers,” said Finch. “So this is a strategic investment. And the more that we can promote tourism, which the original facility didn't really do, this is to promote tourism. And the more we promote tourism, the more jobs we create.”

The original $7.5 million facility was only meant to be open part of the year. The $4.5 million in renovations will allow it to be open year-round. “Was there anything about the original design that didn’t lend itself to a year-round facility which led to the renovation,” asked reporter Ben Amey. “Well, as you go inside, you see there’s a lot of audio-visual, there’s a large selfie wall,” said Finch.

In addition to that selfie wall, the Thruway Authority also added charging stations for electric vehicles, a walkway through history, and a playground for kids. The Welcome Center maintains the Taste NY selection of local foods and beverages that was available at the rest area.

One person happy about all the money being spent along the Mohawk River is Montgomery County Executive Matt Ossenfort, who says the facility will help bring more tourism dollars to the area. “One of the things we need to do a better job of in this county is people that are coming through, getting them to stop and take in what we have to offer,” said Ossenfort. “So this is a great thing to help us achieve that goal.”

The original $7.5 million came from the tolls collected by the Thruway Authority. The $4.5 million for renovations came from the NY Works program, and the money, which was your tax dollars, was approved by the state legislature.

We’ve been on the state about this issue for months. In March, we filed a Freedom of Information request with the Thruway Authority for all bid documents on work at the Lock E-13 Rest Area. The Thruway Authority told us in May that they would need until July to respond to our request.

Credits

Ben Amey

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

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