A local not-for-profit organization unveiled a study last night that shows a recreational path between Lake Placid and Tupper Lake would be more beneficial to the economy than extending the scenic rail line to Tupper Lake.
But creating a multi-use trail connecting the three Tri-Lakes communities would also be more costly.
AdkAction is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit based in Saranac Lake. The group commissioned the study in order to examine the construction costs and economic impacts of either extending the scenic railway or converting it to a recreational corridor for skiers, snowmobilers, hikers and bikers.
The group's chairman, David Wolff, says one thing is clear following the release of the study: doing something is better than doing nothing.
"Either option is a positive economic plus for the communities - so pick one," he said. "Do something. Don't let it just lie foul."
The rail corridor has been a hot topic in the Tri-Lakes region for years.
Supporters of the railway say the Adirondack Scenic Railroad is a significant tourist attraction that would benefit from overhauling the unused rail line between Saranac Lake and Tupper Lake.
Opponents of the railroad say more tourists would flock to the Tri-Lakes if the corridor could be used for a variety of recreational opportunities.
The study was conducted by Camoin Associates and Barton & Logudice.
Barton & Logudice utilized existing state Department of Transportation documentation and studied similar conversion projects in New York to establish construction costs for three scenarios: upgrading the line between Tupper Lake and Lake Placid; permanently converting the rail line to a multi-use, recreational path; and temporarily converting the line to a trail and storing the rails for possible future use.
Ted Kolankowski is senior land use planner for Barton & Logudice.
"What we tried to do in the estimates is develop a consistent basis for all three scenarios," he said. "We couldn't really base it on actual local numbers or numbers that somebody gave us - we tried to base it on national indexes that were reliable, that we use commonly when we're doing our own estimates."
Overall, upgrading the rail line and extending scenic rail service to Tupper Lake would cost approximately $10.6 million and result in some 171 temporary construction jobs.
A permanent conversion to a multi-use trail would cost about $14.6 million and result in the creation of nearly 300 temporary construction jobs. The same number of jobs would be created for a temporary conversion to a trail, but that would be most costly at some $18.8 million.
Camoin Associates studied the economic impacts of extending the rail line or converting it to a recreational trail.
Carmen Lorentz is CA's senior economic development specialist.
"The economic impact numbers that we are presenting apply to the study area that we defined as Franklin and Essex counties," she said.
"When you're doing an economic impact analysis, it's really important how you define your geographic study area," Lorentz added. "Because we're trying to measure what the final demand for the economy is within that defined area."
Economically speaking, Wolff is clearly right when he says doing something is better than doing nothing.
The extension of the rail line to Tupper Lake would result in nearly $760,000 in net new spending for the region - defined in the study as Franklin and Essex counties.
A permanent conversion to a multi-use trail would net just over $1.2 million in new spending for the Tri-Lakes area, with similar numbers for a temporary conversion.
Additionally, Camoin Associates estimates that earnings from the construction phase of a rail extension would total about $6.8 million. That includes wages for part-time and full-time workers, as well as profits earned by local businesses.
For the recreational path, those numbers are closer to $12 million.
With the study's official release, David Wolff of AdkAction hopes local leaders will begin a serious discussion of how to proceed with the rail corridor.
He adds that AdkAction's role in the process is more or less finished.
"We'll probably step back now," he said. "What we wanted to do is help move the debate forward by lowering some of the emotion and putting some more facts on the table."
"Hopefully, the towns will now continue the discussion and come to some conclusion," Wolff added. "Let's get behind one or the other, because the funding required is fairly steep and you need to start working on that."
The full study is available online at adkaction.org. A second presentation will be held today at 7 p.m. at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts.