With the Ironman triathlon in the rearview mirror, the state Department of Transportation started construction work on state Route 86, this time between Lake Placid and Wilmington.
Motorists should expect delays between the two communities, DOT officials said. Work will run between the intersection of state routes 86 and 73 in the village of Lake Placid and continue 12 miles through the narrow Wilmington Notch, past Whiteface Mountain Ski Center to the "Four Corners" in the hamlet of Wilmington, where Route 86 meets state Route 431.
The project is expected to be finished by mid-September, DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said Tuesday.
Contractors recently completed resurfacing work on the Sara-Placid Highway portion of Route 86, a project that local officials said was long overdue. That project resulted in long delays at times because the nearest detour between Saranac Lake and Lake Placid adds 26 miles, and because the 8-mile stretch of highway is one of the most heavily traveled roadways in the Adirondack Park.
McDonald said a lack of straightforward detours is typical of road work in the Adirondacks.
Travelers will have easier detours around the Wilmington Notch project: One is through Keene and Jay and Wilmington. Another is through Saranac Lake, Bloomingdale and Franklin Falls.
McDonald said traffic volume through the Wilmington Notch, about 4,000 cars a day, is about a third of that on the Sara-Placid Highway.
The first phase, expected to take about three weeks, will use cold-in-place recycling to repave the current road surface. The practice involves pulverizing 2 to 5 inches of the highway's current surface and reusing it by mixing it with an asphalt emulsion, which McDonald said saves money and time. The same method was used on the Sara-Placid Highway and is considered environmentally friendly because it doesn't waste the old road surface material.
Work will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the first phase, with one lane open at a time.
For the second phase, workers will lay down new blacktop. That will last about two weeks, McDonald said. One lane of traffic will be open during phase two, but the paving will affect longer stretches of road, meaning longer delays.
McDonald said DOT recently re-launched its upgraded 511 Traveler Information System, which can be found online at www.511NY.org. The website can be accessed on smartphones and iPads or similar devices. Users can also call 511 for information.
"Our goal is to have all of that information up front and then up to the minute, so when travelers are planning their trips, they know that the work is heaviest on this section of the roadway," McDonald said.
She said the DOT's project manager will work with the contractor to make sure accurate information on the project is available.
McDonald said state and federal transportation funds "have been tight" in recent years, so DOT has tried to find more efficient ways to get the most out of its dollars and keep the state highway and bridge system in good condition.
"So what we've done on a statewide basis is assess our bridge and pavement conditions and we instituted a new policy of what I call 'Preservation First,' (in) which every segment of pavement and every bridge has a condition, and the conditions range from poor, fair, good to excellent," McDonald said.
Under this Preservation First policy, McDonald said the goal is to invest in infrastructure graded fair or good and bring it up to good or excellent.
"If you make more of those low-cost investments, it minimizes higher-cost investments that would have to be made if the infrastructure goes down to fair condition," she said.
The goal of the entire Route 86 project is to bring the highway into good to excellent condition, McDonald said.
McDonald also stressed that DOT is always in charge of a state road project, even when it hires contractors to do the work.
"If it's a DOT project, the DOT is always responsible for the project," she said. "The contractor works for the state of New York. At the end of the day, it is the department's responsibility to make sure that the contractor is holding up his end of the contract. ... The buck stops with us."