New Strategic Working Group Made up of State Agencies, Scientists and Environmental Representatives to Develop New Strategies for Keeping Roads Safe while Reducing Impacts of Road Salt
New York State Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner Paul A. Karas today announced two new innovative pilot programs to help rejuvenate Mirror Lake and Lake George by reducing the application of road salt while still protecting the safety of the traveling public.
The program on Mirror Lake will be launched on a 16-mile stretch along State Route 86 starting at Old Military Road and going through the Towns of North Elba and Wilmington and the Village of Lake Placid, Essex County. Alternatively, the pilot program on Lake George will span the approximately 17 mile length of Route 9N from the Village of Lake George to the Town of Bolton. Both pilots in the Adirondacks will leverage all the Department’s best management practices to reduce salt application rates while still satisfying goals of maintaining safety on the state’s highway system. Road salt is one of the challenges impacting the Adirondack Park’s cherished aquatic ecosystems. In collaboration with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the new salt management practices being implemented by the State are intended to help protect the environment as well as encourage commercial and private land-owners to implement similar reductions in their salt utilization.
In addition, the Department of Transportation, together with DEC and DOH, has already established a strategic working group, which includes participating municipalities, and organizations such as AdkAction and The FUND for Lake George-Lake George Waterkeeper, to evaluate the effectiveness of the pilots, which could potentially have an impact on snow and ice practices statewide.
“At the Department of Transportation, safety is our highest priority, and salt has proven to be one of the most effective ways in maintaining a safe highway for the traveling public. At the same time, we understand that there is a delicate balance between protecting the Adirondacks and maintaining safe highways for motorists, given current materials and methods of technologies available,” Acting Commissioner Karas said. “Lake George and Mirror Lake are known worldwide for their pristine beauty, and these new pilot programs will strive to keep our roadways safe while enhancing environmental sustainability. The Adirondacks are a national treasure and as stewards of many roads within the Park, we are committed to working with stakeholders to reduce salt and retain the Park’s beauty for generations to come.”
New Pilot Programs Initiated on Mirror Lake and Lake George
The intent of these pilots is to utilize all of the Department of Transportation’s best management practices, and then evaluate the degree of salt reduction it can implement without negatively affecting the safety of the traveling public. The best management practices the Department will implement as part of these pilots include:
- Using brine for pre-storm anti-icing.
- The use of a plow truck with a segmented plow blade and other alternative blade technologies to mechanically remove as much snow and ice from the pavement as possible.
- Using treated salt, which is more effective at colder temperatures.
- Using Automatic Vehicle Location equipment that can track salt application rates and regularly calibrate the salt spreading equipment.
- Closely monitoring salt use during storms while performing post-storm evaluations to review application rates and the performance of those rates.
- State agencies will work with partners within the park to monitor surface and groundwater quality in the pilot areas.
- Evaluation of cutting back some trees in key locations to allow the sun to melt the snow and ice on portions of shaded roadways.
- Evaluation of abrasives and abrasive mixes.
- Leveraging other Maintenance Program Areas (drainage, pavement, environmental) to see how they can be used to facilitate snow and ice operations, and subsequently reduce the dependence on road salt.
The plans will also include other considerations to ensure the pilots are conducted in a safe manner, such as new signage for motorists on State Route 86 and 9N, within the pilot locations. The signage will be used to indicate that reduced salt application rates are being utilized on the roadway.
These pilots will be performed throughout the course of the 2018-19 snow and ice season. At the close of the season, a review will be performed to determine the effectiveness of the pilots, including on safety, and to consider the feasibility of expanding the salt reduction practice.
“We are pleased to announce the new pilots in Mirror Lake, along the AuSable River, and in the Lake George watershed,” said Brittany Christenson, Executive Director of AdkAction. “We have been working closely with researchers, local politicians, and our partners to advocate for a reduction in road salt for nearly a decade and we’ve learned that a full sleight of best management practices is required if we are going to reverse the trend of salt loading in our precious water resources.”
“Through our ongoing Road Salt Reduction Initiative within the Lake George watershed with the S.A.V.E. Lake George Partnership, we know that implementing Best Practices can reduce road salt applications and we have the data to support that,” said Chris Navitsky, the Lake George Waterkeeper. “We are glad to have New York State join in this initiative with their pilot project to become part of the first watershed-wide assessment of implementing road salt reduction practices. Their participation will be vital to help protect the world recognized water resources of the Adirondacks.”
Previous Successes and Other Efforts to Protect the Adirondacks
The pilots also build upon previous successes the Department of Transportation has implemented within the Adirondack Park, including a comprehensive plan from NYSDOT and the State Department of Environmental Conservation released for managing state highways in the Adirondack Park while retaining the park-like character.
Other NYSDOT initiatives aimed at protecting the Adirondack Park include the establishment of locations along State highways for boat inspection and decontamination stations to help prevent the spread of aquatic invasive plants; the installation of fencing to prevent turtles from crossing Route 30 near Tupper Lake; providing for aquatic species passage during construction work and updating project guidance; and working with The Nature Conservancy last fall to install the state’s first-ever “critter shelf,” a two-foot-wide walkway suspended in a large culvert under State Route 12, south of Boonville, Oneida County, giving wildlife an alternative to crossing the busy road. The Department of Transportation has also begun construction on the Adirondack Welcome Center along the Adirondack Northway (I-87) in Queensbury, which is expected to open in the fall of 2018.
In addition, the Department of Health and DEC are currently reviewing data included in a study from Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute about salt in drinking water wells in areas of the Adirondacks to better understand the nature and extent of presence of salt in the groundwater. The agencies are working with researchers and residents to analyze and understand study results and the need for further efforts. To that end, DOH is offering free confirmatory sampling from its state-certified lab for any interested resident in this study, and is available to speak with residents to provide additional information.These efforts will further the state’s commitment to evaluating reduced salt applications within the boundaries of the Adirondack Park while ensuring the continued well-being of North Country residents year round.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “DEC is proud to work with the State Department of Transportation on these innovative pilot programs carefully designed to maintain public safety without compromising the Adirondack Park’s environmental treasures. These pilots will inform and improve public policy and bolster the way we work together to protect our communities and the fragile ecosystems critical to the overall health of our environment.”
New York State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker said, “Spending time outdoors enjoying our state’s renowned Adirondack region, including its lakes, will help New Yorkers live a healthier life. I commend our partners in state government for developing these innovate programs to protect New York’s world-class natural resources for future generations while still maintaining highway safety.”