Letter to DOT: Say no to rail grant

March 19, 2013

Joan McDonald, commissioner

New York State Department of Transportation

50 Wolf Road

Albany, NY 12232

Dear Commissioner McDonald,

It has recently come to my attention that a request has been made for your support in applying for STEP (Strategic Transportation Enhancements Program) funds from the Federal Surface Transportation Board for $15 million to the Adirondack Scenic Railroad for a rail and trail project. I believe that the applying for and granting of these funds to an entity (ASR) without resolving the controversy over the future use of the Remsen-Lake Placid corridor is a slap in the face to the more than 11,000 (mostly New York residents) who have signed on to request that a recreation trail be built on this corridor. By not putting up for review the unit management plan (UMP) for the corridor, you will be ignoring the issues that have been brought to the table by a large number of New York state residents, visitors and potential visitors to the Adirondack Park. This is nothing but a political maneuver by a small group of train buffs who only have their own hobby at heart and are doing whatever necessary to hold our communities hostage by insisting on keeping this tourist train limping through the Adirondacks on the backs of New York state taxpayers with no discernible economic benefit. What is at stake here is an opportunity to create a real draw for tourism as well as to make our communities more desirable for people looking to move to areas that provide for an outdoor lifestyle.

Please do not help with this end run around the proper procedure to determine the use of this New York state asset. Please support opening up of the UMP for review before funding a project which may result in a huge waste of taxpayer monies. All interested parties should have a say in the matter. Not just railroad enthusiasts and history buffs. ASR is a rail operation first. They have no serious interest in building any significant recreation trails. The funds will be used to get the tracks repaired so that there will be no chance for trail use in the near future. Before any further taxpayer funds be expended, the use of the corridor should be determined by a review of the UMP, which is significantly overdue.

The Adirondack Rail Trail is something that the Adirondack region desperately needs, a long-distance trail that will become a great community connector in both summer and winter. A trail that will be able to help market the region just as the Canal Way does for central New York. A trail that will be utilized by all kinds of citizens, from small children on tricycles and in strollers to athletes, birders, hikers, bicycle riders and disabled folks in wheelchairs as well as hand bikes, safe from speeding traffic on the roads. Snowmobilers will also be able to enjoy riding from town to town, spreading the wealth around.

As a private citizen, I request that you not circumvent the UMP review by helping with this application for STEP funds until the review of the UMP for the corridor is complete. As a board member for ARTA (Adirondack Recreation Trail Advocates) and on behalf of all of our supporters (11,000 and counting), I also request that you give us a fair shake at presenting our case for the Adirondack Rail Trail during these hearings.

Hope C. Frenette lives in Tupper Lake and is a member of the board of directors of Adirondack Recreational Trail Advocates.