Route 33 funnels roughly 70,000 vehicles in and out of the city each day. Comparatively, our Main St. also does some heavy lifting. If we start with our neighbors out on Main St. – near the I-90 – there are 43,325 vehicles traveling each day through Williamsville and Amherst. Heading towards the city, when Main St. reaches the University of Buffalo, the number drops down to 25,400 vehicles. This volume continues down past Hertel Ave. At Route 198 it drops to 17,600. Take Main St. all the way downtown, where cars peel off to their destinations or find parking, 9,800 cars remain on the road at Pearl St. To put this into perspective, the I90 at Kensington Expy peaks at 118,688 vpd and the I190 at Austin St. in Buffalo has been increasing and now stands at 70,354 vpd.
To have 43,325 cars on Main St. (Main) in the Williamsville and Amherst area is noteworthy, because it is not a raised highway. Here the road – with numerous at grade crosswalks – is doing the same work as Route 33 (the 33) but for less tax dollars. However, the speed limit fluctuates between 30 mph and 40 mph compared to 50mph on the 33. Main is an east-west “cross town” arterial road with the comparable being Maple Road a mile to the north with 25,000 vpd. Alternatively, Transit Road whether in Amherst or Depew ranges between 36,000 to 27,000 vpd respectably. However, the 33 (70,000 vpd) and the I190 (118,688 vpd) are the only roads in the City of Buffalo limits that carry expressway volumes of people. See Chart for Examples:
It’s not surprising that the suburbs have more cars on their streets than the City of Buffalo, simply because we use a number of alternative forms of transport according to the census record. There are probably a number of factors for why Buffalonians tend not to use vehicles on the road as much as the suburbs. Nevertheless, for older people or those with small children, vehicles are depended upon to haul groceries home, getting to doctors appointments on time, and when arthritic knees act up in the cold. Route 198 (the 198) used to perform much in the same way the 33 has done over the years. At one time, it funneled people that live near and around the park to the 33 and then to the airport or downtown. It was built out using data from…wait for it…1946. (1)
With the 198 being built out to carry peak hour traffic of 70,000 vpd (vehicles per day) like its sister expressway the 33, it warranted the capital expenditure and high cost of maintenance. This was back when the population was over 500,000 from 1920 through to 1960. This was a time when states didn’t have bidding wars for iron used in construction with countries like China. The costs for construction were warranted, assuming the low end of the spectrum for off-peak traffic was 37,600 vpd. (2)
I could not find an exact number for maintenance cost for the 198. But the County does publish its costs. In 2009, highways within the boarders of a “City” in Erie County had a maintenance cost of $44,582 per lane per mile. Whereas, highways through small towns run $23,178 per lane per mile (or lane-mile), Route 20A is an example of a “highway” with lower costs. To make a comparison, a highway in New Jersey runs $183,700 per lane-mile (which is shocking considering the poor quality). In 2011, the cost to maintain a lane-mile of “road” in Erie County on average was $25,328. When thinking of lane-miles we have to multiply by the number of lanes then by the number of miles being maintained. The 198 has four lanes and is roughly 3.5 miles long.
But what happens if people stop using the highway – or in the 198’s case – have a falling number of users? First, It is important to note that 5%-7% of the total users are tractor trailers and large trucks. The use of the 198 has dropped – but not equally throughout the length of the 3.8 miles of road. The section from the I-190 westward, past Grant St., Elmwood Ave and Delaware Ave no longer has a peak traffic of 65,000 vpd. It doesn’t have a peak traffic of 60,000 vpd or 50,000 or even 40,000. Interestingly, this length of the 198 from the I-190 to Parkside just misses meeting the 37,600 minimum. Current counts are coming in with a high of 37,500 vpd and a low of 31,200 vpd.
But wait ! Wasn’t the drop due to the reduction of the speed limit? Actually, the usage has been dropping for a while. But there is a flip side, when we go into a recession, weak dollar and all, the number of Canadians crossing the Peace Bridge increases. This happened in 2008, 2009, and 2010. But the occasional increase in traffic from Canada is not enough to meet NYDOT expressway requirements. As more and more drivers are using electronic directions; websites like Yahoo and Google are routing cars north or south on the I-190 to get out to the Boulevard or Galleria Malls. Southbound on the I-190 to the I-90 and then Galleria is only 18 minutes in the middle of the day.
There are a fair number of people working from home, using bikes and walking. Of the neighborhoods (based on Zip Codes) that border the 198 (West Side, Black Rock, Elmwood, Parkside/University and North Buffalo) roughly 11,157 people take a mode of transportation other than a car. Of those that do; 6,003 take the bus or subway, 2,726 walk, 563 take a bike, and 1,330 are working full time at home. There are 444 that have “other” forms of transport… think motorized bicycles and skateboards. Not included in the 11,157 number are the 5,590 people that hitch a ride with another person. While probably not having a “major” impact, it does displace roughly 11,157 cars. Then again, if those cars were on the 198, it would clear the minimum number of vehicles required to keep the 198 as an expressway.
With these kinds of numbers we are looking at maintaining this section of as an expressway (I-190 to Parkside) at $44,582 per lane-mile. At four lanes wide that is $178,328 per four lanes per mile. The section from the I-190 to Parkside is roughly 2.7 miles, or $481,485 in maintenance costs. If the section from the I-190 to Parkside was a roadway like Main St. (with or without the median) the cost would be closer to $25,328 per lane-mile, or $273,542 for the 2.7 miles… a savings of $219,100.
If we did some radical thinking such as…. redirected the $219,100 to the local communities, it could be used for local block clubs, additional or heated bus shelters, or even plowed sidewalks. Considering Buffalo’s crime rate per 100,000 people is higher than New York City’s we could hire some neighborhood-community police. Maybe we should just let the people decide what the tax dollars should go towards, and call for a vote ? What would you do with $219,000?