Whiteface highway repairs welcome

The first of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s announcements Wednesday in Lake Placid wasn’t too hard to predict but was no less welcome for that. When we heard he would make “two important announcements related to economic development in the North Country,” our first guess was fixing the Whiteface highway.

Indeed, the governor pledged that the state will invest $12 million from its NY Works infrastructure fund to make long-needed repairs to the Whiteface Veterans’ Memorial Highway – plus upgrades to the toll house at the road’s base, the castle at its top and the elevator inside the mountain that rises to the summit building.

The state owns all this property and owes it to the 70,000 people a year who use it to keep them safe. The highway’s barrier walls and shoulders have deteriorated to the point of being dangerous. The state must remedy that.

Having just editorialized last week that the state should fix the highway this coming budget year, we naturally are pleased it happened so quickly.

The beautiful views from this winding road and the summit of New York’s fifth-highest mountain are still a major tourist attraction for the region. More locally, a recent study by the Regional Office of Sustainable Tourism found the highway was the number-one draw for visitors to Wilmington – a town that also has the Whiteface Mountain Ski Center, Santa’s Workshop theme park, High Falls Gorge and one of the most famous trout-fishing rivers in the Northeast.

The state owns the biggest economic engines here, as is the case with the Lake Placid Olympic venues and the Adirondack Forest Preserve as a whole. If those engines were to break down, a lot of people would lose their livelihoods.

The state collects tolls from drivers on the Whiteface highway, but officials say that revenue is barely enough to patch potholes. As a result, the road hasn’t been fully resurfaced since the 1960s, and the otherwise attractive stone walls between the cars and the edge are full of crumbled holes. When the road opened back in 1935, were the tolls supposed to completely pay for its upkeep? If so, they haven’t kept pace with the weather’s wear and tear.

Current toll prices are $10 for a vehicle and driver, $7 per additional passenger and $6 for a bicyclist. That’s not cheap, but still, the state might consider increasing it a little so the road’s users – rather than all New Yorkers – would carry more of the burden of the road’s future maintenance. Of course, we locals like going there, too, and won’t like having to pay more, but we don’t want the road to become unsafe, either.