Press-Republican

December 31, 2012

State DOT changing dispatch in Essex County

By LOHR McKINSTRY
Press-Republican

---- — ELIZABETHTOWN — Local officials are hoping there won’t be response delays this winter when the State Department of Transportation’s Elizabethtown garage switches from its own 24-hour radio dispatch room to a regional center.

The “radio watch” was maintained for years at the DOT’s Essex County base in Elizabethtown so that personnel could quickly respond to any winter snow and ice emergency.

Now the state is switching to regional dispatch centers for DOT, and Essex County’s will be at State Police Troop G headquarters in Saratoga County, DOT Regional Engineer Michael Fayette said.

“That (radio watch) has been very valuable to me. Whenever we got any calls from any (town), the State Police, any other law-enforcement or the public about the conditions of the state roads and bridges in Essex County it allowed us to react accordingly.”

He said the Transportation Management Center will now get the calls. Only a handful of counties maintained a 24-hour radio watch, Fayette said.

“What is going to happen is, the State Police come across black ice or a snow and ice condition, they will call the TMC down in Saratoga and Saratoga will in turn call (us).”

That could cause delays, Fayette said, and he’s trying to find workarounds.

“For us it is a pretty significant change. I am going to have a conversation with the Sheriff’s Department and the State Police as to how they transmit what they normally would, to eventually make it to us, so that we can react to it in a way that doesn’t delay us any more than we absolutely have to.”

He said the radio watch is very important at this time of year.

“I always refer to certain things as having that warm blanket on a cold evening -- radio watch is that for me. It is very nice to have a human being on a phone that I can, wherever I am, call and find out what is going on, and that also works for law enforcement and the general public as well.”

He said a radio watch will still be maintained at Elizabethtown, just not 24 hours a day.

“With radio watch being transferred to our TMC, I have kind of modified it to my own variation. Whenever we are in, no matter what, I will have somebody on a radio and at the phone in Elizabethtown.”

Supervisor Michael Marnell (R-Schroon) said he used to rely on the radio watch when he was highway superintendent for Schroon.

“I know when I was the superintendent of highways, when Severance (DOT shop) got called, they called me and it made my life a lot easier knowing that I didn’t have to go out every hour and a half to see what was going on. It is going to be a hardship (without it).”

They already have to call the TMC when there’s any kind of problem on the roads, Fayette said.

“Anything that happens on any state highway, be it accidents, road closures or you name it, I and my staff are required to notify our TMC and it goes out on the statewide 511 (website); you can look at a map of New York state and see road conditions and road closures.”

The site is at: www.511ny.org.

The Transportation Management Centers’ stated purpose is linking things like variable-message signs, closed-circuit traffic cameras, and highway advisory radio systems; coordinating operations within the DOT and with other agencies; and providing real-time information to the public and the media on incidents, emergencies and congestion. They assist in monitoring real-time conditions on the transportation system statewide, identifying incidents and congestion, and managing the network.

Fayette has furnished municipalities with a color-coded map of DOT supervisors’ cell phone numbers to try to minimize notification delays.

Supervisor George Canon (R-Newcomb) said they will start calling DOT personnel direct on road conditions.

Fayette said he goes to a two-shift schedule in the winter to cover storms.

“From Nov. 26 all the way to April 1 is the bulk of our snow and ice season and we operate two shifts, so we cover the clock 24 hours a day.”

Essex County Department of Public Works Superintendent Anthony LaVigne said he has just one shift in the winter, but has to maintain far fewer roads than the DOT.

“People should allow more time to get to their destination,” LaVigne said. “Drive slowly. We don’t have a bare-roads policy.”

Neither does the DOT, Fayette said.

LaVigne said his main county roads to be kept clear are Lincoln Pond Road (County Route 7) from Moriah to Elizabethtown and Tracy Road to the Adirondack Northway in Moriah.

Email Lohr McKinstry at: lmckinstry@pressrepublican.com