Research highlights an economic boost that sits untapped along the railroad line from Lake Placid to Tupper Lake.
AdkAction released findings of a three-month study detailing how the corridor could be developed.
In Lake Placid on Wednesday, land-use and economic-development consultants outlined three scenarios they reviewed: to upgrade and extend the railroad tracks from Saranac Lake to Tupper, to remove the tracks permanently or to remove the tracks temporarily. If the tracks were removed — either way — developers could create a multi-use trail that would extend snowmobile access two months longer in winter and provide a scenic 34-mile bike/running path in warmer months.
The study did not look at a rails-with-trails option for a shared train and recreational-path corridor, even though a 4.5 mile stretch from Lake Placid to Ray Brook already has a permit from the Adirondack Park Agency for construction.
The Adirondack Rail Corridor Economic Impact Study says "that the rails-with-trails option, even if the legal and environmental barriers could be surmounted, is likely more time-consuming, more difficult and therefore more costly to undertake."
The research further suggests that the existing rail bed is not wide enough in many places to accommodate both.
Ted Kolankowski, senior land-use planner at Barton & Loguidice, said to accommodate a rails-with-trails scenario, the rail bed would have to be widened 20 feet, creating major environmental impacts on the many sections of the corridor lined with rock cuts and steep embankments.
Dave Wolff, chairman of AdkAction, said the research provides data on costs and economic impact to allow communities to work toward a solution for common use.
"Doing either one (upgrading the rails or building a multiuse path) is better than doing nothing."
AdkAction made no recommendations in the final report, Wolff said, hoping the debate on how to utilize the corridor would use their analysis as a base.
Scenario 1 suggests an upgrade to Class III tracks from Saranac Lake to Tupper Lake to allow for a two-hour trip at speeds of up to 65 mph.
But Kolankowski said the Adirondack Scenic Railroad indicated they would not run the scenic tourist trains faster than 45 mph.
The estimated cost for repair and upgrades of the railroad tracks came in at $10.6 million and adds two stops between Saranac Lake and Tupper Junction.
Scenario 2a suggests permanent conversion to a recreational path at an estimated $14.6 million and recoups nearly $2.7 million in salvage for rails and railroad ties.
Scenario 2b suggests a temporary conversion and involves storing the rails and ties. It is the most costly option at an estimated $18.8 million.
Comparing economic benefits, the railroad upgrade and extension to Tupper Lake would deliver an estimated 8,400 new train rides amounting to a $758,014 economic boost to regional economies in Franklin and Essex counties, according to Carmen Lorentz, economic analyst from Camoin Associates.
Tearing out the tracks and building a recreational path would likely deliver more traffic.
Lorentz said their research showed new spending from 18,850 bicyclists and 9,200 snowmobilers adds up to an economic boost of $1,223,165, even after deducting income from the scenic railroad.
But Lorentz said, it would likely take a legislative act from state lawmakers in Albany to change the use of the railroad corridor permanently.
Managed as a Department of Transportation Corridor inside the Adirondack Park, the entire railroad line from Lake Placid to Remsen is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The AdkAction report did not study legal ramifications of taking out the rails, Lorentz said.
"It means you would have to do it in a way that preserves the railroad history."
After the presentation, former North Elba Town Councilman Chuck Damp said they plan to move ahead with the permitted project to build a rails-with-trails path from Lake Placid to Ray Brook.
"Tupper Lake to Saranac Lake is more challenging as a corridor," he said.
"We're going to forge ahead with a project permit from APA in place. And we don't want to stop in Ray Brook."
Putting the existing project in motion comes after 11 years of research and engineering design.
"The North Elba plan is already done," Damp said, "then the next piece will come."
The meeting in Lake Placid followed a similar presentation made in Tupper Lake on Tuesday.
The entire report is available online at www.AdkAction.org.
E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at: firstname.lastname@example.org