Editorial by Michael Kearns – NYS Assembly 142nd District:
All Western New Yorkers and taxpayers have a stake in the development of the Outer Harbor areas. The City of Buffalo can no longer afford to have prime waterfront real-estate continue to sit idle, underutilized and unimproved for another half century. We need to grow our tax base and removal of the Skyway would add value to these underutilized acres and would create valuable opportunities for development. Additionally removal would create a waterfront with public access, tourism, and more recreational opportunities.
Buffalo has always been a waterfront city but Buffalo’s waterfront fortunes changed in 1955 with the addition of the Skyway Bridge over the Buffalo River. The following year in 1956, the City of Buffalo transferred certain real property to the Niagara Frontier Port Authority the predecessor of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA). Our community’s experience with ill-fated waterfront development proposals has demonstrated the need for true community driven planning and comprehensive analysis.
The cities of New York, Syracuse and Rochester are evaluating options for removal of elevated highways that are highly restrictive and limits space for development. At an Urban Freeways Summit this past year in Albany they described their goal for all of these cities including Buffalo, “to replace a highway that currently divides a community with a roadway that re-connects neighborhoods and helps bring vitality to the area”. Recently the Congress for New Urbanism named the Skyway one of the 10 “Freeways Without Future”.
The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) rates the Skyway bridge as “fracture critical” and according to a (NYSDOT) Skyway Management Study, the “Bridge Preservation Option” with concrete overlay will cost taxpayers’ $42 million over a 20 year period. I had the opportunity to meet with (NYSDOT) Commissioner Joan McDonald in Albany and she has directed her office to conduct a plausibility review of the route. Even the Federal Highway Administration has commented on the only bridge in New York State that will close each year due to inclement weather by classifying the bridge as “functionally obsolete”.
Buffalo’s waterfront has historically been used for industrial and municipal uses. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has conducted investigations to determine what areas of Buffalo’s Outer Harbor are contaminated. According to NYSDEC fact sheet, the site is the result of filling activities which occurred over the past 100 years including “primarily incinerator ash, casting sands, blast furnace slag, dredged lake soils, and miscellaneous construction and demolition debris consisting of concrete, brick and wood.” The transition from contaminated acres to public access is paramount to Buffalo’s future.
Until the New York State Department of Transportation demonstrates the will, vision and or funding necessary to effectively evaluate and study the removal of the Skyway Bridge, we will continue to debate Buffalo’s Outer Harbor into the forcible future. Whatever plan you support for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, with the removal of the Skyway Bridge you can have the best both plans including public access to the water and development.
Image: WNY Heritage Press