The Wilmington Town Council announced yesterday that it will turn Route 86 into a toll road. The move comes as the town completes construction on the bridge over the Ausable River. The town supervisor, Randy Pushton, said, "After we completed the bridge construction, this was the logical next project to take on. When we looked around, it seemed that Wilmington had an unusual amount of through traffic. The new toll road will allow us to capitalize on that."
The town of Wilmington plans on constructing two toll booths on Route 86. The first will be located at the township's border with the Town of North Elba. The second will be constructed at the bridge crossing the Ausable River at what is commonly referred to as "The Flume." This would place all attractions and trailheads in the Notch in the tolled area.
Pushton assured that the rates will remain affordable and competitive. Citing the Veteran's Memorial Highway, "A family of four in a single vehicle would cost $31 dollars to get to the top of Whiteface, and Route 86 has a lot more attractions on it. We think it will be reasonable to charge no less than $40 per family. But we're still working on the details."
The Town Council also requested that special rates be designated for each class of vehicle. Motorcycles, and delivery trucks will have their own rate, but the specifics are yet to be determined. A frequent commuter pass rate is being discussed as well.
With the rising popularity of cycling in the Whiteface Region, an additional fee will be charge for cars carrying bikes. Motorists will be charged an extra $5 for every bike in tow. "They're essentially additional vehicles piggybacked on another vehicle. We want to make sure that we seal up any loop holes," Pushton said.
Cyclists riding their bikes through the toll area will be charged according to the cost of their bike. Each cyclist will pay a rate of $10/per thousand dollars that their bike costs. This is to prevent the tolls from unfairly burdening lower income cyclists. "We want to be fair, but come on, those guys can afford it," Pushton said.
When asked how the toll road would function during the Ironman Triathlon - the bike portion goes through the Notch on Route 86 - Pushton stated that all users of the Wilmington Notch Toll Highway will be subject to toll rates, regardless of affiliation with events. "We want to be supportive of events like (the Ironman Triathlon), but that represents a large revenue loss for us if we don't charge them. We estimate that the average Ironman athlete represents between a twenty to forty dollar toll. When you factor in that there are around 2,500 participants riding through the toll area twice, we're estimating to take in a hundred thousand to two hundred thousand dollars from them alone!" Pushton said.
To facilitate race times during the Ironman race, Pushton and the Town Council are looking in to installing an EZ Pass type system. That will allow the athletes to proceed through the toll section without stopping or having to carry money with them.
When asked if he thought that the tolls would deter visitors from coming to the area, Pushton replied, “I don’t think so. It costs over $20 in tolls to get in and out of Delaware, and that state sucks. But people still pay it.”
When asked his opinion about the proposed Wilmington Notch Toll Highway, Mayor Craig Walkdall of Lake Placid said that he was in favor of it. He added, "We have our own project that's been in the works and rolling it out in conjunction with the new toll highway seems appropriate."
Starting Memorial Day Weekend the village of Lake Placid will be charging a fee to view Whiteface. "The hardest part will be cracking down on bootleg viewings and visitors randomly looking up and seeing it."
Construction on the toll booths is expected to begin this spring and be finished in time for Memorial Day Weekend. If the program is successful, the town council hopes to expand the toll area to include many of the popular mountain bike trails.