Two Essex County municipal supervisors call for a meeting with the state Department of Transportation to discuss what they think is “unacceptable” road conditions along State Route 86 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 dazzling icy conditions made the road dangerous. State snowplow trucks, which are usually responsible for salting and sanding the road, did not arrive on the scene until at least 6:30 a.m., creating slippery and dangerous conditions for the drivers traveling along the road to get to work.
The Wilmington Notch has been closed twice this week. The first time was on Tuesday because of that day’s snowstorm, which downed trees and power lines across the north of the country. Snowplow trucks were only able to force their way through the notch after electrical crews restored fallen wires to the roads. But on Wednesday, Wilmington City Supervisor Roy Holzer and North Elba City Supervisor Derek Doty said it was a lack of communication between NYSDOT dispatch crews and road crews that was preventing snow plow trucks to circulate.
Holzer said the Wilmington Highway Department was on State Route 86 at 5 a.m. Wednesday trying to make the roads safe.
“It’s not even our road” he said.
The city’s highway department closed the road for just 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 about two hours Wednesday morning. “while state and local highway crews salt and sand.”
DeBiase said state police did not respond to any major car accidents or collisions on Route 86 that morning, although there were two crashes that resulted in property damage, a disabled vehicle and an accident that resulted in minor bodily injury.
Holzer contacted NYSDOT to ask why state crews weren’t salting and sanding roads sooner than they had. He emailed NYSDOT requesting a meeting with the department to discuss the lack of coverage on State Route 86 on Wednesday.
The state’s resident DOT engineer, George Laundrie, responded to Holzer’s email with three reasons the state’s snowplow trucks didn’t get to the Notch until later that morning. The first reason was that the NYSDOT supervisor for this area, Eric Crowningshield, was on vacation this week. Laundrie said a “lower level” the supervisor was covering for him.
Laundrie also said DOT relies on Essex County dispatch or the DOT Traffic Management Center in Albany to call road crews after hours, but crews have never received a call. .
“We never received a call on (April 20) that the roads were slippery until our staff arrived already at 6:30 am, which was too late, I realize,” he wrote. “Typically, we almost always get a call from dispatch early in the morning so we can get the crews in early, but for some reason on April 20, we never got that call.”
This 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 Wilmington’s state highway crews depend on the Albany Expedition.
“To me, it makes no sense” said Doty.
Doty and Holzer also believed that state highway crews had moved 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 they didn’t blame road crews for the road conditions this week.
“The last thing I want to do is criticize the guys plowing the road because they’re doing the best they can with what they’ve got,” Holzer said, “and I think that’s probably higher than we really need to talk.”
Laundrie added in his email that NYSDOT was incorrectly notified that an accident was blocking Highway 86 around 8 a.m. Wednesday, so the state snow plow truck traveling along the freeway turned around west of the crash site – which the email didn’t make clear – and the DOT was arranging to get a truck “the long way” on the Wilmington side.
Doty thought reasoning was a “step aside” say there were no state teams in the area to begin with.
Laundrie was unavailable Friday to clarify the crash location or rerouting he listed in the email.
Doty and Holzer expect to have a follow-up meeting with Laundrie, whom Doty said he had good conversations with.
“The safety of the traveling public is always a top priority for the (DOT) and we will be meeting with city supervisors to discuss their concerns,” DOT Public Information Officer Bryan Viggiani wrote in an email.
The meeting would not be about blaming road or dispatch crews, Doty said — it would be about discussing communication between NYSDOT dispatch and road crews to ensure public safety in the future. .
“Public safety must never be set aside”, said Doty.