Tourism

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A stretch of shoulder along the Whiteface Veteran's Memorial Highway is cracked and separating from the road itself. Restoration plans for the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway is moving forward rapidly. The State Department of Transportation aims to have project design done by mid January and for work to begin this spring. (Staff Photo/Kim Smith Dedam)
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Markers point to the historic accomplishment of completing the Whiteface Veterans' Memorial Highway up Whiteface Mountain, which opened July 20, 1935, at the behest of Franklin D. Roosevelt. The road curls in hairpin turns to the mountain's summit of 4,867 feet above sea level, New York's fifth-highest peak. (Staff Photo/Kim Smith Dedam)

NYSDOT readies for Whiteface Highway restoration

By: KIM SMITH DEDAM

WILMINGTON — Restoration plans for the Whiteface Veteran’s Memorial Highway is moving forward rapidly.

The State Department of Transportation aims to have project design done by mid January.

“We’ll have a contractors’ meeting before we go out to bid,” DOT spokesman Bryan Viggiani told the Press-Republican.

“We plan to have bid material out by Feb. 1 and to open the bids by early March. We are looking to award the contract by early April.”

Shovels will go into the ground when it thaws.

“We have a goal to have the contractor begin work on April 15,” he said.

HAND-LAID WALL

Even if there is snow on top, as there often is on Whiteface in mid April, contractors could begin staging the job site, ordering equipment and materials, bringing in machinery and setting up an office.

“The road project presents some unique challenges. There’s not a lot of room for maneuverability,” Viggiani said.

DOT counted and checked each of 2,000 quarry stones along the 8-mile highway, each cut by hand and stood on end as barrier protection.

Some have tilted or tipped over and will be reset upright.

The hand-laid wall will also be repaired and repointed and the weep-holes for drainage cleared.

Asked if masons can still do the kind of artisan work needed to repair an essentially antique stone wall, Viggiani said DOT believes they can.

“We will bring some new technology, respecting old engineering,” he said.

Road restoration will use $10 million of the $12 million in NYWorks funding announced for Memorial Highway infrastructure by Gov. Andrew Cuomo last month.

COMPLETE REPLACEMENT

Cuomo’s push to repair, restore and reclaim the historic highway drew a standing ovation from a standing-room-only crowd when he launched the project in Lake Placid.

The additional $2 million will be used for repairs to the Castle visitor’s center on top.

Viggiani said DOT is moving ahead at an “extremely accelerated pace.”

The state agency held a public information session at Whiteface early in December, gathering comments from community members.

Engineering review has tightened nuts and bolts of the highway project.

DOT will replace all 8 miles of Whiteface’s Memorial Highway, from the intersection at Route 86, past the Toll House, to the summit.

But for all its wear and tear and patches, some promising details have emerged from engineering reports, Viggiani said.

“There are 65 culverts along the highway. A lot of them, based on our review, are in better shape than you might think. There are some that will need more work than just lining them.”

The culverts were built to move water from steep mountain slopes beneath the massive, dry-laid stone walls that shore up portions of the road’s surface as it turns 180 degrees twice up Whiteface.

ENGINEERING FEAT

Built in the early 1930s, Viggiani said, the highway really is an engineering feat.

“Especially when you realize the (work crews) didn’t have hydraulics back then.”

But restoration looks to blend new technology while preserving the old.

“This road is on the National Register (of Historic Places),” Viggiani said.

“And a lot of it has non-standard features: The road width is 10 feet in each direction. Then the shoulders are non-standard with 2 feet of paved and 2 feet of gravel.”

Some of the outer shoulder areas have grown in with grass over the years, he said.

DOT’s plan is to reclaim the original road’s design without making it wider.

“We can’t make it wider for several reasons — first of all, its historic designation. We also have State Forest land on either side with several protected species of birds and alpine plants.”

Within the current boundaries, DOT will dig up the asphalt, replace the water line to the Castle and then replace the roadbed before resurfacing.

SCHEDULED CLOSURES

The schedule for construction will likely close the road for some days of the week.

“Preliminarily, we’re looking at a couple of things. The idea currently — but this may change — is to have the road open for weekends only in May. During the summer months, the road would open for visitor trips four days a week. And then it would open on weekends only through September and October.”

The periodic, scheduled closure would enable DOT to finish the project in 2015.

“It would give crews weekday time to work on the road,” Viggiani said. “Our engineers have said the road is a national treasure.”

Other engineering reports turned up some detailed travel statistics.

The Memorial Highway provides Whiteface summit access for about five months to 28,900 cars annually, on average.

“There were 544 cars on the peak day, Sept. 1, last year,” Viggiani said. “There are an average 192 cars on the road per day.”

UNIQUE PROJECT

The pits, potholes and moguls on the road will be gone after this construction project, leaving a smooth, even roadway for tourists, bikers and hikers.

“It is certainly a unique project for DOT,” Viggiani said.

Written comments to DOT for Memorial Highway restoration may be submitted to: Project Manager Geoffrey Wood, NYSDOT, Region 1 Design, 50 Wolf Road, Pod 2-3, Albany, NY 12232.

Comments may also be submitted via email to: geoffrey.wood@dot.ny.gov.

Email Kim Smith Dedam:kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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