State to review Adirondack rail corridor plan

Time for the debate to leave the station? Photo: Matt Johnson, CC some rights reserved

Time for the debate to leave the station?
Photo: Matt Johnson, CC some rights reserved

State officials announced moments ago that they plan to revisit the management plan guiding use of the controversial corridor between Old Forge Inlet and Remsen and the heart of the Adirondacks — Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake and Lake Placid.

Critics of the tourist railroad have urged a review over the last two years and today’s announcement represents a big step in their efforts to reopen the question of how the line should be used.

Here is the full release from New York State:

DOT & DEC TO REVIEW THE MANAGEMENT PLAN FOR REMSEN-LAKE PLACID TRAVEL CORRIDOR

Public Process Will Determine Future Use of the Rail Corridor

New York State Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Joan McDonald and Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today that the State will initiate a public process to review the Unit Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (UMP/EIS) for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor, a 119-mile section of rail line that runs through the Adirondack Park. The UMP/EIS will be reviewed to assess the corridor’s natural and physical resources in an effort to identify the best public and economic use.

“Based on public feedback, DOT will work with the DEC to review the Unit Management Plan for the region in order to engage local communities about the best future use of the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor,” said DOT Commissioner McDonald. “The Department of Transportation is focused on providing a safe transportation system that meets the needs of the communities it serves and helps to support regional economies. Reviewing the UMP will help us do that for the Remsen-Lake Placid Travel Corridor.”

DEC Commissioner Martens said, “Members of the public are very interested in the future use of the rail line and reviewing the UMP/EIS process will provide the public with the opportunity to weigh in on the use of the corridor. This public process will enable DOT and DEC to hear from residents, local officials, visitors and other stakeholders on their views of the current and future use of the Travel Corridor.”

The DOT, DEC and the Adirondack Park Agency (APA) developed the 1996 UMP/EIS with considerable public input.  The current effort to review the UMP will take into account issues that have developed over the past 20 years by providing an opportunity for all interests to be part of the process and comment on future transportation and recreation opportunities along the Travel Corridor.

The DOT and DEC will work with the APA and schedule public scoping meetings on a timely basis to help determine what issues and factors will be considered in the environmental review. Both agencies will subsequently prepare an amended draft UMP/EIS laying out a vision for the future of the Travel Corridor.  The draft UMP/EIS will be widely available for public review and comment prior to developing a final UMP/EIS that will be considered by the APA, and ultimately approved by Commissioners McDonald and Martens.

The 119-mile long Remsen Lake Placid Travel Corridor is under the jurisdiction of DOT, and is managed pursuant to a Travel Corridor Unit UMP/EIS.  The Travel Corridor runs in a northeasterly direction connecting Utica to Lake Placid.  Approximately 100 miles of this Travel Corridor is located within the Adirondack Park. An additional 19 miles is located outside of the Park in the Tug Hill Region.

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51 Responses to “State to review Adirondack rail corridor plan”

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  1. Don Dew Jr. says:

    This is a positive step. Hopefully it can be completed within a reasonable amount of time!

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  2. Paul says:

    This certainly seems in order given the ongoing debate. I would think for DOT “transportation” is going to be a key factor in their thought process. Especially given the fact that we are starting to see older rail lines getting new RR uses in the area.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 11 Thumb down 7

  3. dave says:

    Very positive step. I suppose all you can really ask for in these situations is for the data and the facts to be reviewed by the officials.

    Interested to see for they interpret this, “The seasonal tourist train between Lake Placid and Saranac Lake was provided for in the 1995 Unit Management Plan as an experiment that had to prove itself through market development for the benefit of the local economies.”

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  4. Paul says:

    I think there is little doubt that the experiment has not produced the results. The question moving forward is are there some other uses (non-seasonal expanded rail use, some other use of the corridor, etc.) that could produce a positive result. I would hope that is does not continue this “seasonal short run tourist train verses a rail trail” bilateral debate. If it does I think that would be a mistake. It seems like it is the DOTs job to think much more broadly when considering how to proceed.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 6 Thumb down 8

  5. Pete Klein says:

    Could DOT and DEC please stop wasting time and money on management plans and put the money towards taking care of what they are supposed to take care?
    Must everything be a discussion?
    Let’s have a meeting. Let’s talk. Let’s not do any actual work.

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  6. Paul says:

    Yes, Pete life is what happens when you are making plans!

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  7. brian m says:

    Rip out the tracks. Let’s get hiking, biking, riding sleds!

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 15 Thumb down 15

  8. Fred says:

    If the tracks get ripped out, I hope it becomes so overgrown with ‘nature’ that a bicycle or snowmobile could never make it over!!!!! Walking (hiking) would be fine! Most of all, keeping the land destroying, private property ignoring, snow machines out of there. Heck, why don’t we keep them out of the Adirondacks all together!!!!!

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  9. John Kessler says:

    Fix the tracks. Lets get the trains rolling over the entire line. I’ve been waiting far too long for this.

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 12 Thumb down 11

  10. Mike cole says:

    Finally, an end in sight of this senseless debate. The railroad restoration can be completed which opens the corridor for travel. No more ‘land locked’ tourist trains in the dacks!

    Hot debate. Like/Dislike Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. Michael Greer says:

    I think it depends on where you stand. I personally see it as a contest between a super efficient transport system for the future and a bunch of noisy, annoying, gas powered toys. Let’s not complicate the issue by suggesting that hikers would be interested in hiking a long, straight, flat trail.

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  12. The Original Larry says:

    More debate about nothing.

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  13. Arlan says:

    Debate about nothing? I am sick of hearing about this and glad that a decision will be made.

    Pete: I am with you; stop planning and start doing. But in this case, you need to make a decision before you put any money into it. The state has let the debate go too long.

    Like/Dislike this comment: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  14. Pete Klein says:

    I do favor improving and extending train transportation into the Adirondacks. If the improvements were sufficient enough, it could lead to some commercial transportation.
    But there is another weakness we have up here. It is the forgetting that not everyone owns a car and many who live in our largest market, NYC, are among those who don’t own a car.
    Not only could we use more and better train transportation in and out of the Adirondacks, we could use more bus service.
    There are many small towns that were once served by Adirondack Trailways. Now, not so many.
    I think it was about 25 years ago that Adirondack Trailways stopped servicing Indian Lake.

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  15. Paul says:

    It really looks like this debate has deteriorated into almost a shouting match. Hopefully this process will carefully look at all the possibilities and consider what is the best long term use for the corridor. It seems like either way it goes it should be an all or nothing thing. Either the corridor could be used across its entire length for some type (or multiple) of train uses, or the tracks should be removed even at the southern end where there seems to be more support for the train. Like I said it also needs to consider the reuse of other RR corridors that have sprung up (the commercial use of tracks that began in the Adirondacks this year and the use of the line that runs from Saratoga to North Creek as examples). The other factor to consider is this. Is the need to remove tracks to allow for snowmobiling with less snow (which seems to be a trend) just a short term fix for sledders? A railroad use of the corridor could continue year round if the right use is developed. It is not a snow or weather dependent thing. I think the bottom line is that once you make the switch there is no going back. I am sure the DOT understands this.

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  16. Two Cents says:

    the adirondacks need a direct rail line into nyc. (and north to montreal while we’re at it) it can bring people up to see you guys, spending vacations and money, then food from farmers down to the city markets, restaurants.
    when this can happen with reliability, your wilderness will open, the curious will travel, the businesses can supply and be supplied, hipsters can have their bohemian retreats, you will have your 4 season tourism in the adirondacks, and integration with a lot more of the state.

    think how easy it would be for migrant farm workers to commute from penn station to malone for dairy work.

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  17. newt says:

    Interesting lack of response from the trail-only people here, which is unusual.

    Maybe they think their argument has been heard where it really counts.

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  18. Thomas Paine says:

    Gentlemen, we must understand our opponent, the rail to trail gang is lead and well-funded by Mr. Lee Keet, at transplant to the “Daks” from Connecticut. He owns a large track of property along the RR right of way between Saranac Lake and Lake Colby; He is a very well to do political Activist and community organizer. Along the same line as our current President. Mr. Keet, heads the Keet family foundation, He and His wife Nancy are both Green Activists and support most left leaning political candidates. To include Barack Obama and Senator Gillibrand. http://www.keet-foundation.org/.

    Thomas Paine

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  19. Walker says:

    Gee, Tom, I don’t agree with Lee Keet’s position on the rail/trail either, but if there is one thing this issue is not about, it is the left/right, liberal/conservative divide!

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  20. Mark, Saranac Lake says:

    I don’t agree with Lee Keet’s position either, but Mr Paine’s attack couldn’t be less relevant to the issue.

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  21. Paul says:

    Walker, I am with you. I have seen some crazy stuff around this particular “debate”. This kind of personal attack stuff is not at all productive. When I hear it, even as a supporter of possibly coming up with some kind of rail use idea, I think maybe this one is something to just walk away from entirely. Rails or trails… neither is worth any of that kind of stuff.

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  22. Arlan says:

    Nys subway and Amtrak can’t survive without heavy subsidies. Passenger trains in the ADKs would be a moneypit

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  23. Thomas Paine says:

    Mark, of Saranac Lake, no attack, this is public knowledge.

    Thomas

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  24. Nuetral says:

    Thomas Paine sounds like someone from Tupper Lake supporting the ACR, same tactics, no real understanding of the issues, just use personal attacks to denigrate anyone disagreeing with your opinion.

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  25. Arlan says:

    This is about two tourist attractions: scenic rail or rail trail. If there were a feasible business opportunity from passenger rail or freight, a private company would have invested in this line already. If the state intends to consider passenger and freight, they need to data to support the feasibility. Other states need detailed feasibility data on a rail line before funding any restoration. This should be no different.

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  26. Paul says:

    Arlan, people don’t really ride the subway just for fun. What needs to be compared here is a fully restored rail line perhaps with 4 possible train types.

    1. A scenic RR that includes transportation of hikers and paddlers (with their canoes and kayaks) to different new rail heads in popular wilderness destinations along the way. Similar to a hiker train that is very popular out in SW Colorado (http://www.durangotrain.com/packages/adventure-packages)
    2. Using the RR in some way for transportation to and from and around the area. (the subway option, just happens to be a subway with some spectacular scenery?)
    3. Using the RR for possible future industrial uses.
    4. Using the RR for Pullman service which seems far-fetched but if it is there the more that use the line the better and the costs can be spread out.

    These all need to be compared to a fully run rail to trail.

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  27. Thomas Paine says:

    Nuetral, this is all on the public information web sites. Like the IRS.

    http://501c3lookup.org/Activity-Code_Gifts-grants-or-loans-to-other-organizations/

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  28. dave says:

    Just because something is public information does not mean it is relevant to the topic or appropriate to bring up in the discussion. No one appreciates you lowering this debate even further.

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  29. Thomas Paine says:

    Dave, I wrote DEC 7 days ago and received this reply:

    Hi Thomas,
    A rewrite of the Black River UMP has not been scheduled, so it is still years out. There is an amendment being worked on involving snowmobile trails. I don’t have a schedule for that, just know that its in the works. The next Adirondack UMP that will be worked on out of our Herkimer Office is either Ferris Lake Wild Forest or West Canada Wilderness Area. Ferris has no completed UMP.
    Why your interest? There are no major issues currently involving Black River WF and when that is the case we tend to take care of the minor needed changes with amendments.

    I hope this helps.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    Stephen Litwhiler
    Citizen Participation Specialist
    Region 6
    315-785-2252

    I find it very interesting that in just 7 days there is a complete reversal? Perhaps a certain politically influential party member made a certain political donation to a certain Presidential candidate in the governor’s office: “Just say in”

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  30. Paul says:

    Better throw in a conspiracy theory for good measure! Thomas, he is probably just talking about what the que is in general for the different UMPs. This isn’t a standard UMP that was up for review right?

    Besides, I seriously doubt that the DOT is going to be particularly keen on the idea of quickly ripping out tracks and ending that “transportation” corridor without good reasons. If they rule that it is not the time, and there isn’t sufficient data to make a good decision, they are likely to err on the side of caution and keep the plan as it looks now.

    The rail to trail folks (like the train people) have to put together serious data based on this particular plan. Just because thousands of people ride a rail trail down in cape cod or some of these others does not mean it will happen here. Look they are predicting that over 200 thousand people a year will use the trail. Do you really think that the DEC and DOT are going to be convinced that this short spur of the full trail will attract more visitors than the High Peaks does every year now?

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  31. Thomas Paine says:

    http://www.adirondackcouncil.org/page/board-6.html

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  32. Walker says:

    Tom, so what? I don’t care if the Westboro Baptist Church is on ARTA’s side– if it’s a good plan, it’s good. If it’s a bad plan, it’s bad. Who cares what the other affiliations of its supporters are?

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  33. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Paul, actually there are lots of people who DO ride the subway for fun. People from Iowa, or wherever, love the sort of gritty magic of riding the subway. I would be thrilled if the ADK rail lines were packed with people and busy hauling freight. I just don’t see it happening, not to say that an enormous infusion of money and a radical change to the economy might not make it happen, but it seems unlikely. For most of the people in the Park a drive of an hour or much, much less will give them access to the main line between NYC and Montreal. For many it isn’t much more of a drive to Montreal. The stupid mountains make it very inconvenient for travel. That is what the Adirondacks is all about.

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  34. Nature says:

    This should get interesting judging by all of the hyped up data/speculation from both sides of the debate. I personally would prefer the trail. Although I think it will cost more to build and maintain than the ARTA folks have stated. But I am assuming it would be free to use. The admission price is right for me. I think the trail would be used by more people ultimately. And that to me is important in this consideration. If I lived in Tupper Lake, I could use the rail trail to lead me to a nearby Lake, or hiking trail up a mountain for a longer weekend excusion, or I could use the trail for my half hour bike ride after work. I might ride the train once a year (yet to happen), but I would use the rail trail many times throughout the year. This gets my vote.

    I can also imagine a fully restored rail line from Old Forge to Lake Placid. That would be pretty cool. But this seems like a very expensive proposition, not only to maintain, but also to ride (probably out of my price range). Once again, I might use it once a year. This doesn’t justify the expense in my opinion.

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  35. Arlan says:

    Took my kids to DC. We road the metro for fun. We were going to
    Fly to Chicago, but instead took the longer and more expensive Amtrak for fun.

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  36. The Original Larry says:

    Rail travel in the US is inconvenient, expensive and impractical. Even with massive government support it isn’t economically viable. The Adirondack rail road vision is a hobby project that can only exist with government financial support that we cannot afford. Even if we could afford it, the number of people who would use it or benefit from it is depressingly small. When rail travel is as easy and cost effective as driving, give me a call. I know it is heresy to suggest people drive but it just makes more sense.

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  37. mervel says:

    Ol, train travel is not uniformly unsuccessful in the US. On the Eastern corridor for example or in some of our cities, Boston, NYC and Chicago come to mind, it works it is used and is a great asset for those cities and regions.

    Is the NYC subway system profitable? No I don’t think it is, however is it a major asset for the city of NY and without a doubt it is critical for the success of business and industry in NYC.

    To me the key is volume, I don’t see the volume of customers to make regular train traffic work in the Park.

    The only exception would be if you could make a fast commuter train from Albany to Lake Placid which could spur off to the Canadian system. But putting around the Park to these little communities is as you say a hobby and if people want to pay for that hobby go for it, but I am not sure it is worth public investment.

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  38. mervel says:

    Here is the issue though, say I am a tourist from NYC or the Capital district and I want to catch a train up to Lake Placid for the weekend. How do I get around when I get left in Lake Placid? How would I get out to whiteface how would I get out to the trail head to climb Marcy etc? I guess you could rent a car when you got up here would be the only option. So we are back to cars again, why not just drive my own car from Albany?

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  39. Lily says:

    Mervel

    There is a tourist bus running around Lake Plaicd for free. In winter they go to whiteface numerous times a day. There is a Taxi service. In summer, Bike rentals.

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  40. mervel says:

    Thanks Lily, I didn’t know that.

    I think if you could train up to Lake Placid from Albany or NYC and do a weekend, without needing a rental car I honestly think a LOT of people would go for it. It would be a big market.

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  41. The idea of the RR is not totally wrong, but there are so many advantages to the trail concept, it is still my passion. The railroad has shown that its popularity is based on other attractions, but rail trails are usually an attraction in and of themselves. (see Virginia Creeper, Pine Creek and Hatfield McCoy and others) If the train were to do all these pick ups and discharges for trails and waterways, the passengers would go nuts trying to get to THEIR stop. Actually, this is not that unique or scenic when compared to other Adirondack Trains. The Saratoga North Creek is more scenic, but struggles with passenger attractions. The Amtrak (NYC and Albany to Montreal) is a beautiful train, yet West Port is little more than a flag stop and is still subsidized at 53% per passenger to keep it running. That’s a lot of money that maybe should go to urban rail and highways used by ~87% of the public. When I worked for the Adirondack, there was always a conflict in hotel booking, because the only time the trains would fill is when there was already events that were filling the hotels anyway. I’m not sure you could change that. People are not willing to schedule for one or two trips a day, it’s not enough choice and operating a train every couple hours is simply not practical.

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  42. Arlan says:

    Right now, can’t passengers from NYC and Albany get to Old Forge by train? If they can, are they doing it in substatial numbers? How much does it cost? How long does it take? Does TSA require baggage screaming?

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  43. Paul says:

    I don’t think that TSA screens any bags (maybe some kind of random screens?). I ride the the train from Philly to DC quite often and there is no screening at least of anything you carry on which is usually everything. If they are not worried about those metro spots (especially DC) I can’t imagine they are worried much about Old Forge?

    Glad to see that there seems to be some kind of consensus that the trains can be ridden for fun in some circumstances. That is important for any kind of scenic or hiker type concept.

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  44. Paul says:

    “Right now, can’t passengers from NYC and Albany get to Old Forge by train? ” Yes, I think they can. It is part of the disputed rail line we are talking about here. Train service from Utica (where you hook up with Amtrack) to Old Forge is part of the Adirondack RR right? Aren’t these tracks that folks would also want to pull up eventually?

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  45. ThisGuy says:

    Are there very many people using the train to tavel to Old Forge to stay a few days? How successful has this service been at bringing tourist up from the cities? If want to get a feel for how successful this would be for the Tri-lakes, it would be good to know how it has been for Old Forge.

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  46. The train in Old Forge brings very few to stay ( 19th Green Motel, Big Moose Inn, and others say no one)
    Quite a few ride for the Christmas on main street promotion and foliage rides with layovers, but only the dime souvenir shops report any trade. We did a business survey two years ago and 2 of 54 respondents
    reported financial gain. This survey should be done again by an independent, like the Adirondack Express paper or Town Board.
    It seems telling that the Train only runs in July and August and other special times to take advantage of the already busy area and then, if people spend on the train, that’s money that does not go back into the local economies.( Especially those businesses by-passed, or passed by as the case may be.)
    I studied marketing psychology, worked for the Olympic Adirondack Railroad, had a Rt 28 business, have been involved in the family Corridor business for life, groomed the corridor since the early 70′s for snowmobiling; I’m not just some schmuck with an opinion. The trail will be MUCH better, cheaper, longer seasons and more sustainable over the generations. This corridor is one of the best consistent snow areas in the State, is perfect for the Adirondack Experience on a bicycle and if we need public transportation take a bus. If your a train buff, you could ride Utica to Old Forge or go to Saratoga, or go from NYC to Montreal.

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  47. mervel says:

    I was thinking NYC to Montreal with a spur over to Lake Placid? Old Forge is not Lake Placid though, different tourist market in my opinion. Old Forge seems like snowmobile paradise but Lake Placid does not.

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  48. ThisGuy says:

    How about a bus from Amtrak station in Westport to Lake Placid. It may already exist. Wouldn’t it accomplish the same thing for a lot less money?

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  49. Walker says:

    “I was thinking NYC to Montreal with a spur over to Lake Placid?”

    Mervel, the terrain between Westport and Lake Placid is not conducive to the needs of railroads for relatively flat routes– the high peaks are in the way. That’s why the first railroad to reach Lake Placid came in from the north, from Plattsburgh via Dannemora, Lyon Mountain, Loon Lake, Gabriels, and Saranac Lake– a very long way around. Those tracks are all long gone, except for the last stretch from Saranac Lake to Lake Placid (which continue south to Utica). So no, it wouldn’t make a reasonable route.

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