The South Mall Expressway set for a rehab

South Mall Arterial 787 from Corning Tower 2014

The South Mall Expressway viewed from the Corning Tower

The Cuomo admin announced this week that $22.4 million will be spent rehabbing the South Mall Expressway, which connects I-787 to the Empire State Plaza. Work is scheduled to start later this month.

Press release blurbage:

Work on the South Mall Expressway, which carries approximately 21,000 vehicles each day, will occur from I-787 to inside the tunnels underneath the Empire State Plaza. The project will include replacing the concrete driving surface of the four bridges that carry the expressway over 787 and city streets. Work will also involve structural repairs to the bridges, including joint and bearing replacements. Repairs to the pavement leading into the tunnel, work on the connecting ramps and bridge painting and steel repairs are also included in this project.

The project is scheduled to happen in stages -- the westbound side (toward the ESP) this year, the eastbound side (toward 787) next year, and then work under the bridge in 2018. Also: "Consistent with Governor Cuomo's Driver's First initiative, the project has been designed to minimize impacts to expressway traffic. Work that will most affect travel lanes has been scheduled for summer months, when traffic volumes are lower."

He's never going to leave her
The future of 787 is always a hot topic because a lot of people see the highway's placement and shape as a barrier -- between Albany and the riverfront, between downtown Albany and the South End. And if you compare aerial photos of Albany pre-South Mall Expressway and after, you can see the huge path the road plowed through downtown.

787 study public event visioning map
One of the maps annotated by the public at a meeting last year about the future of 787.

Last year a group of state and local agencies started a planning project for the future of 787. And one of the things that struck us at the time was the apparent disconnect between what a vocal segment of the public wants to see happen and what public officials say is possible. In short, some (probably not small) group of people want to see 787 and the South Mall Expressway taken down sooner rather than later -- but officials say 1) there isn't money available for that and 2) even if the money does become available, the timeline for a project of that sort is probably something on the order of decades.

So this announcement about the state sinking the money into repairing a road that many people see as a fundamental problem for downtown Albany reminded us of that scene in When Harry Met Sally in which Marie (Carrie Fisher) is talking with Sally (Meg Ryan) about the man she's been having an affair with for a long time:

Marie: The point is, he just spent $120 on a new nightgown for his wife. I don't think he's ever gonna leave her.
Sally Albright: No one thinks he's ever gonna leave her.
Marie: You're right, you're right, I know you're right.

The state is buying the South Mall Expressway a $22 million spa treatment. It's not leaving the highway anytime soon -- if ever.

Earlier on AOA: If you're interested in this topic, you should read Sandy's take on how knocking down 787 and the SMA could actually help traffic in downtown Albany.


All hail the almighty automobile. All hail the single occupant vehicle. All hail the $2 gallon of gas. May they reign forever and ever.

Public policy once again loudly proclaims that Albany is a city to work 9-5 in, not a city to live in. The next verse in Albany's tired song describes the unspeakable evil of adding a bike lane to Madison Avenue and how it will slightly increase commute times back to the safety of suburbia.

Here we go, another $23 million dollars being sunk into the maintenance of this poorly planned monstrosity. The work being done to the South Mall Expressway, which sees about 21,000 vehicle rides daily, means that each of those vehicles is costing the state taxpayer $1,061 (or to look at it another way, each driver would need to pay a $1,061 in tolls to finance this, which would look like 45 cents a day over ten years). This doesn’t even take into consideration the $58 million sunk into work to 787 itself over the past 5 years. All totaled, this brings us to a current investment of $81 million dollars since work began in 2011 to maintain this infrastructure. And we still have a lot of work ahead of us to preserve 787 in its current state. Sadly, before a concrete decision gets made on how best to tie this artery into the urban fabric of downtown (aka enhancing walkability and access to the waterfront) we may have sunk to much to turn back—and I think Cuomo is purposely doing that to dig into the city for daring to challenge the King.

I've been married to Albany for 40 years, just the way the city is:

"Well, it was a million tiny little things that, when you add them all up, they meant that we were supposed to be together…..and I knew it. It was like coming home…..only to no home I’d ever known. It was like…..magic.”

it may be a sad sour pill to swallow, but the reality may be that it's cheaper to maintain it than to tear it all down and build back up from scratch.

If you don't like your house would you bulldoze it and build from new? no, most of us would do what renovations are possible.

This may be the same situation. Whine and complain all you want but I don't think that has the ability to change reality.

Remember that time the deck nearly fell off one of the bridges? And the other time a pier was cracked so badly that the ramp had to be shut down? I don't see this as a planning decision -- it's a "let's not have stuff fall down" decision. And $23 million doesn't actually sound like such a big investment when you consider the size of the interchange. Just my 2c.

$23 million is a lot of money. Seems they would want to protect their investment by forcing a re-routing of the dreaded black bomb trains that roll right through that mess.

I suspect nothing will change with this dreadful highway or its arterial until one of those trains does explode.

They haven't even finished 787 between the Port of Albany and the end of 787. Plus the I-90 bridge is still being finished.

This is going to be a hoot and a half!

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