Town of Newcomb officials are cautiously optimistic that their attempt to shame New York state into fixing Route 28N earlier than planned has succeeded in getting the Department of Transportation’s attention.
And we are, too.
A day after Newcomb Planning Board member Paul Hai released a YouTube video highlighting the poor condition of Route 28N on Thursday, March 28, 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.”
Wow. The little town of Newcomb — population 436 in the most remote section of the state — stood up to the goliaths in Albany and won.
Newcomb Town Supervisor George Canon was supposed to meet with DOT officials in May about repairing State Route 28N. But after the video was released in the media — on the Facebook page of the News Enterprise, the Times Union’s Capital Confidential blog, and other websites — Canon received a phone call from the DOT to expedite the meeting, which took place Tuesday afternoon, April 2, at Canon’s office.
DOT Region 1 (Capital District) Acting Regional Director Sam Zhou had to drive on Route 28N to get to the Newcomb Town Hall. We hope he also drove to Long Lake, where the worst section is located.
Newcomb officials initiated a letter-writing campaign but received a reply that was less than helpful:
“Only 1.5 miles of Route 28N meet the criteria for a major rehab project.”
That prompted a response from Paul Hai in the video: “Which 1.5 miles do you suppose it is?”
After all, the DOT has signs on Route 28N stating “Rough Road” for 13 miles. So is it 1.5 miles or 13 miles?
The letter-writing campaign wasn’t enough to move the DOT into fixing Route 28N, which hasn’t been reconstructed since 1979 (gas prices at 90 cents/gallon).
But one quirky, clever and direct video — with 6:42 minutes of interviews, information and slapstick — won the day, thanks to attention from traditional and social media.
We think Newcomb framed the argument correctly. Hai interviewed motorists in Long Lake, highway officials, and the town supervisors in Newcomb and Long Lake. Aside from the obvious safety issues and damage to vehicles, Hai reminded viewers that the state of New York is spending millions of dollars buying 69,000 acres of former Finch, Pruyn land to add it to the Forest Preserve. And some of that land — in the MacIntyre, Boreas Ponds, and Essex Chain of Lakes tracts — is located in the town of Newcomb. In addition, 6,800 acres in the Tahawus Tract recently purchased from the Open Space Institute is located in the town, as is the southern trailhead for the High Peaks Wilderness Area at the Upper Works.
In the video, Long Lake Supervisor Clark Seaman said people may not return to Newcomb once seeing the newly acquired lands. Canon said people may just stay away completely.
“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.”
We do, too.
Newcomb is on the front lines of the Forest Preserve experiment in the Adirondack Park. Residents have been promised publicly — by Gov. Andrew Cuomo — that the Finch, Pruyn land deal will help the local economy.
Supervisors from five towns — Long Lake, Newcomb, North Hudson, Minerva and Indian Lake — have been meeting with state officials to figure out how the towns can benefit from those purchases. State leaders need to realize that they can’t just buy chunks of land and expect tourists to easily flock to these remote corners of the Park; the purchase comes with an obligation to assure access.
And access means a complete reconstruction of State Route 28N. Talk is cheap. What Newcomb needs is action. And they need it now.