WILMINGTON - The Whiteface Mountain Veterans Memorial Highway officially opened Saturday, May 17 for the spring, summer and fall, but if you want to drive up it, you may have to plan your visit around construction work.
The upper, toll portion of the road, where the work is focusing this year, will be closed Monday through Friday but open on weekends for the rest of May, all of June, all of September and the beginning of October, before the highway is closed for the season Sunday, Oct. 5. It will also be open on two holiday Mondays in those months: Memorial Day, May 26, and Labor Day, Sept. 1.
In July and August, the toll road is scheduled to be open every day, with work taking place at night.
The highway will be closed a total of 54 days from this week until the end of the season. It will be open for 88 days over that same period.
The public will not be allowed to travel on the toll road when construction is underway because the road is too narrow. Motorists can be flagged around work on the lower half of the highway.
State Department of Transportation spokesman Bryan Viggiani said the work schedule took Wilmington's big summer events into consideration.
"We recognized the importance of a huge tourism attraction," Viggiani said. "We recognize that people have a long weekend there (on Memorial Day), so we want to make it accessible to the tourists for that weekend."
The Wilmington-Whiteface Bike Fest on June 20, 21 and 22 will not be affected by the road closure. Many of its events take place on mountain bike trails, and the big road race up the toll road, the 13th annual Whiteface Mountain Uphill Bike Race, is on a Saturday, June 21.
"We've really added a lot this year; our numbers for the race are over 100 people," Wilmington town Supervisor Randy Preston said. "This is shaping up to be a huge event."
There's also an Uphill Foot Race on the Whiteface highway on Sept. 13, a Saturday.
Preston said the sooner the work gets done, the better.
On Wednesday, construction workers were using an excavator to dig near a leaky culvert on the toll road portion of the highway. Rifenburg Construction's project manager, Russell Huta, told the Enterprise the company is getting ready for some heavier lifting next week.
"We're mobilizing to get the work started," Huta said.
Preston said Rifenburg will begin working on the shoulders of the road.
"They're going to do the ditches first and then the lining in the culverts," Preston said.
In September, the company is scheduled to begin paving the highway. The toll road has many dips and bulges that are partially caused by culvert pipes being in a state of disrepair. Culverts let water flow under the highway. When water freezes under the road, it expands, causing a bulge known as a frost heave. In all, 65 culvert pipes will be worked on. Some will be completely replaced, and others will be fixed or unclogged. There are 14 historic stone walls along the edge of the highway, from Wilmington to the top, that will also be fixed.
The highway restoration is a unique project in part because of the number of state agencies involved: DOT, Department of Environmental Conservation, Adirondack Park Agency and Olympic Regional Development Authority.
The $11.2 million project, funded through the state's NY Works program, is expected to be finished next year in June.