After the storm

Officials: ‘Unacceptable’ road conditions on Rt. 86 this week warrant meeting with NYSDOT

Two town supervisors in Essex County are calling for a meeting with the state Department of Transportation to discuss what they believe were “unacceptable” road conditions along state Route 86 on Wednesday morning.

The Wilmington Notch, a section of state Route 86 that runs along the Ausable River from North Elba to Wilmington, closed for the second time in two days on Wednesday after glare ice conditions made the road unsafe. State plow trucks, which are usually responsible for salting and sanding the road, didn’t arrive on the scene until at least 6:30 a.m., which caused slick and unsafe conditions for drivers traveling along the road on their way to work.

The Wilmington Notch was closed two times this week. The first time was on Tuesday because of that day’s snowstorm, which downed trees and powerlines across the North Country. Plow trucks weren’t able to make their way through the Notch until after electrical crews restored downed wires in the roads. But on Wednesday, Wilmington town Supervisor Roy Holzer and North Elba town Supervisor Derek Doty said it was a lack of communication between NYSDOT dispatch crews and road crews that kept plow trucks off the road.

Holzer said the Wilmington Highway Department was out on state Route 86 at 5 a.m. Wednesday, trying to make the roads safe.

“It’s not even our road,” he said.

The town highway department closed the road for a little over an hour, according to Holzer, so trucks could apply salt and sand to the road and help cars stuck in the Notch reach safety. New York State Police Public Information Specialist Marissa DeBiase said the Wilmington Notch was closed for a total of around two hours on Wednesday morning “while state and local highway crews salted and sanded.”

DeBiase said State Police didn’t respond to any major car crashes or collisions on Route 86 that morning, though there were two crashes that resulted in property damage, one disabled vehicle and one crash that resulted in a minor personal injury.

Reasons why

Holzer reached out to NYSDOT to ask why state crews weren’t salting and sanding the roads earlier than they did. He sent an email to NYSDOT requesting a meeting with the department to discuss the lack of coverage on state Route 86 Wednesday.

State DOT Resident Engineer George Laundrie responded to Holzer’s email with three reasons why state plow trucks didn’t make it to the Notch until later that morning. The first reason was that the NYSDOT supervisor for that area, Eric Crowningshield, was on vacation this week. Laundrie said a “lower level” supervisor was covering for him.

Laundrie also said that DOT relies on Essex County Dispatch or the DOT Traffic Management Center in Albany to call in road crews after hours, but the crews never received a call.

“We never received a call on (April 20) a.m. that the roads were slippery until our staff was already in at 6:30 a.m., which was too late I realize,” he wrote. “Typically we almost always receive a call from dispatch in the early morning hours so we can get crews in earlier, but for some reason on April 20, we never received that call.”

That lack of communication is what Doty and Holzer want to discuss with the state DOT. Doty and Holzer want to talk to NYSDOT about why state road crews in Wilmington rely on dispatch from Albany.

“To me, it makes no sense,” Doty said.

Doty and Holzer also thought that state road crews had switched to seasonal operating hours, but Doty said “it’s far from an excuse” for the lack of coverage on Wednesday. Doty and Holzer made it clear that they don’t blame the road crews for road conditions this week.

“The last thing I want to do is be critical of the guys that are plowing the road, because they’re doing the best with what they have,” Holzer said, “and I feel it’s probably further up the line that we really need to be talking.”

Laundrie added in his email that NYSDOT was incorrectly told that an accident was blocking Route 86 around 8 a.m. on Wednesday, so the state plow truck that travels along the highway turned around west of the accident location — which wasn’t made clear in the email — and the DOT was arranging to get a truck “the long way around” on the Wilmington end.

Doty thought that reasoning was a “side step” to say that there were no state crews in the area to begin with.

Laundrie wasn’t available on Friday to clarify the accident location or the reroute he indicated in the email.

Doty and Holzer expect to have a follow-up meeting with Laundrie, who Doty said he’s had good conversations with.

“The safety of the traveling public is always a top priority for the (DOT) and we will meet with the town supervisors to discuss their concerns,” DOT Public Information Officer Bryan Viggiani wrote in an email.

The meeting wouldn’t be a matter of blaming road or dispatch crews, Doty said — it would be to discuss communication between NYSDOT dispatch and road crews to ensure public safety for the future.

“Public safety has to be never put on the shelf,” Doty said.


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