As roadwork leading up to the Peace Bridge expansion continues to “ramp” up (lead image), there are those in the community that are talking about winding down our roadways, including the Niagara Thruway, and the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways. One particular activist is jumping on the radical-yet-sensible bandwagon with his proposal to cover both the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways. I spoke to attorney and civic leader Kevin Gaughan and asked him if his proposal also included the Niagara Thruway and he told me, “Most definitely” (even though that freeway could possibly be moved inland instead of covered).
Gaughan recently addressed Governor Cuomo in an email that read, “It’s time for these misplaced vestiges from the age of sprawl to be moved below ground so we can return safety to citizens’ lives, and restore our park and east side neighborhoods to their original Frederick Law Olmsted design.” As for the Scajaquada and the Kensington, Gaughan added, “It’s time to bind up our city’s wounds, and finally include African-Americans in our regional resurgence.”
To add credence to his proposal, Gaughan reached out to a former Department of Transportation (DOT) planning engineer by the name of Joseph Tocke, who stated that the two freeways (Kensington and Scajaquada) were prime candidates for “lowering” underground. At the time, Gaughan was not yet envisioning the larger waterfront picture (the Niagara Thruway), but has since added that stretch of freeway into his field of vision, as all of the transit-ways are interconnected.
In order to see these projects through, Gaughan needed to devise creative financing measures. One effective measure would be to draft legislation for a new State Infrastructure Bank (innovation created by Congress) that would sock away funds for transit and transportation projects in Buffalo.
According to Gaughan, the way that this would work is, “SIBs are essentially ‘one purpose banks’ that are capitalized by Federal funds and matching State money. Recently Cuomo established a SIB with 1.2 billion dollars virtually overnight. A SIB is like a private bank (government established), with low interest loans for private companies. When loans are paid back, the SIB is replenished, and the funds are made available again. The finance wizards that conceived of the SIB in the mid 90s are (to this day) perplexed that the they are not more utilized. With hedge funds and pension funds looking for these types of investment opportunities, this could be a real windfall for our roadways.”
“Investments in infrastructure projects are very stable and the returns are dependable,” Gaughan added. “We’re talking about pools of money, both public and private, with the sole purpose of financing this city’s transit transportation projects. SIBs were conceived of by progressive urban planners. Rather than dedicating the funds for any one roadway, the funds should be administered to any freeway project that we want to see covered, removed or downgraded. These roadways (Scajaquada, Kensington, Niagara Thruway) should be considered one because they are one. How do we say “no” to people living on the East Side who are breathing toxic air, or the people who are disconnected from their waterfront, when we now know that these types of moneys can be made available?
“SIBs are utilized in other cities, but for some reason not here. Buffalo is the only city in America that must compete with Manhattan for funds. That was the inspiration for this idea. The money would be available exclusively for WNY projects. We have great minds (here in Buffalo) who have put tremendous thought into the downgrading and removal of these roadways – these people should be on the board of a SIB. I have already received a response from the chairman of the Brookings Institution that this is a brilliant idea for Buffalo. Now we need a piece of legislation drafted.
“The sad ripples from the young boy that we lost in Delaware Park might be transformed into realistic changes in our manmade environment. The excuse that we just don’t have the money is no longer the case. Surface transportation errors surround us in Buffalo. These are the most effective development initiatives that we could be looking at moving forward. We need to be examining all of our transportation opportunities as ‘one piece’ if we are ever to become whole again.
“For generations, we’ve told residents of Buffalo neighborhoods that we can’t afford to move a highway misplaced in a park, cover an expressway that cuts through a community, or shield a neighborhood that breathes toxic air from idling trucks. By being innovative and shrewd now, perhaps we can reach a day when we no longer must say no.”
“At long last, and in the wake of a terrible tragedy, Albany is about to permanently correct the error of an expressway in Delaware Park, at a cost of some hundred million dollars,” Gaughan concluded. “Once we take that step, how can we say no to other neighborhoods facing similar physical and environmental dangers as a result of long ago, ill-considered decisions.”