Screenshot of PAul Hal in Newcomb's video
When Adventure Cycling picked the route for 52-year-old Mark Mansell to take his cross-country bicycle trip through the Adirondack Park in August 2012, the company sent him along State Route 28N, through the towns of Long Lake and Newcomb.
Traveling from Old Forge in the west to Ticonderoga in the east, this was the quickest route on paper. Many tourists who have never driven Route 28N probably make the same decision. After all, GPS gadgets don’t know the difference between a smooth road and a rough road.
Route 28N is a rough road.
“It’s an embarrassment,” Long Lake Town Supervisor Clark Seaman told Newcomb Planning Board member Paul Hai during an interview for his YouTube video highlighting the rough road conditions of Route 28N, especially the 13-mile section between Long Lake and Newcomb.
Hai released the video on Thursday, March 28, sending a YouTube link to as many people as he could, including media outlets in the Adirondack region and as far south as Albany. The News Enterprise quickly posted the link on its Facebook page and made a phone call to the New York State Department of Transportation office in Albany. The Times Union mentioned the video and posted a link on its Capitol Confidential blog.
The video is 6:42 minutes of interviews, information and slapstick. Apparently it struck a nerve in Albany. By Friday afternoon, DOT Director of Communications Beau Duffy released an official statement:
“Route 28N is a critical part of the North Country’s infrastructure that is in need of repair. Ensuring that the road is well maintained is critically important to our efforts to increase tourism to the area and showcase the jewel that is the Adirondack Park. More importantly, however, local residents simply should not have to put up with substandard and potentially dangerous road conditions. At the direction of Governor Cuomo and Commissioner McDonald, repairs to 28N will take place on an expedited basis, commencing in the coming weeks.”
When contacted the morning of Tuesday, April 2, Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon — who was interviewed in the video — said the DOT contacted him shortly after the video was released to mainstream and social media outlets. A meeting that was supposed to happen in May was expedited, and Canon was supposed to meet with DOT Region 1 (Capital District) Acting Regional Director Sam Zhou at the Newcomb Town Hall on the afternoon of April 2.
Town of Newcomb officials are cautiously optimistic that their attempt to shame the state into fixing Route 28N earlier than planned has succeeded in getting the DOT’s attention. Originally the road work was scheduled for 2015.
“The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” Canon said the morning of April 2. “The meeting this afternoon is one thing. Starting repair on the road is another.”
Spearheaded by members of the Newcomb Planning Board, with direction from Board Chairman Bob Lilly, Newcomb officials initiated a letter-writing campaign to move the DOT into action. The reply from the DOT was less than satisfactory, as Hai points out in the video:
“Only 1.5 miles of Route 28N meet the criteria for a major rehab project,” Hai said, reading from the DOT reply in the middle of the road, wearing an orange vest and construction helmet. “Which 1.5 miles do you suppose it is?”
Originally built from 1909 to 1913, Route 28N hasn’t seen a reconstruction since 1979. Patching potholes and paving over sections can only do so much with winter frost heaving. In many sections between Long Lake and Newcomb, there is a washboard effect on the asphalt. People have to slow down to keep themselves and their vehicles safe.
“I had a meeting this morning in my office with somebody that came from Saranac Lake, and he’s following a log truck at 3 miles an hour because that’s as fast as the darn thing can go over them bumps,” Canon said in the video.
This is no ordinary highway. New York has designated the 40 miles of state Route 28N from Long Lake to North Creek the Roosevelt-Marcy Trail, a Scenic Byway named for the 26th U.S. president, Theodore Roosevelt, and the 11th governor of New York, William L. Marcy.
“I suspect that Gov. Marcy and President Roosevelt would not be very happy to see their names associated with that trail,” Canon said in the video.
The section of highway that needs the help is between Long Lake and the Boreas River crossing in the town of Minerva, between 25 and 30 miles, Canon estimated.
In the video, Hai interviewed motorists in Long Lake, highway officials, and the town supervisors in Newcomb and Long Lake. Aside from safety issues and damage to vehicles, Hai reminded viewers that the state of New York is spending millions of dollars to buy 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn paper company land to add it to the Forest Preserve. And much of that land — particularly around the Boreas Ponds — is located in the town of Newcomb.
“When you consider the fact that the only way to access these newly acquired lands is on 28N, from either the Newcomb or the Long Lake side, I’m afraid that some visitors are going to come here and they may visit once, but will they return?” the Long Lake supervisor said in the video.
The Newcomb supervisor suggested that people may hear about the rough road and decide to stay away.
“There’s other places to go,” Canon said. “And if you’ve got a choice, you’re not going to bang your car all to pieces, so I’m hoping that the governor understands that this is a big deal for us.”
Canon suggests that part of the reason Route 28N hasn’t received enough attention sooner is that it spans two DOT districts and two counties, Hamilton and Essex.
“And I think sometimes when you have those built-in differences, it puts you on the back burner,” Canon said. “I think that’s what’s happened here to some extent.”
Route 28N is not only a Scenic Byway and access road to the newly acquired Finch, Pruyn lands; it plays an important role in Newcomb’s Comprehensive Plan. They call it the Route 28N Corridor Plan.
“The road is an integral part of that planning process,” Canon said. “And it would be very difficult to implement the things that we’ve got in our Comprehensive Plan on a piece of highway that was falling apart, so they’re kind of tied together.”
Hai knows Newcomb well. He is the program coordinator for the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Foresty Adirondack Ecological Center on Route 28N. And he helps run the Adirondack Interpretive Center 1.7 miles up the road. In an email, Hai called the DOT response to the video “Pretty amazing,” but he’s reserving judgment until he sees the pavement flowing.
Watch the video on YouTube athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tuv0_cP-0yU.