Author: Rick Lenard
First of all, I need to tell you my perspective on this issue as I’ve worked right underneath the Skyway in a marina for the last 15 years. I take the Skyway every day to and from work and have seen my share of accidents, backups, weather related closing, construction detours, bike tours, and lost travelers. As reported by the NYS DOT, over 40,000 cars, trucks and buses use the Skyway each day! That’s a lot of traffic to suddenly go somewhere else. The RT5 connection to the 190 both north and south is a highly travel road by commerce and commuters. Reading the report done by the DOT in 2008, most of the accident were due to construction! A few to weather and the other incidents from actual police reports.
Let’s look at alternatives.
Bridges: A bridge from the Outer Harbor from Fuhrmann Blvd. across to; Erie Basin (Erie St.), Lower Main St. by Canalside and Michigan Ave (old bridge location).
Because of the grain ships, sand barges, pleasure craft, many are high masted sailboats, a lift bridge would be the way to go. Something like the Intercoastal waterway you see in Florida and other places with a half at each side connecting in the middle. The who would be responsible for operating and maintaining it hasn’t been worked out, let alone paying for it. If it was a bridge to Erie St., it would be dumping 40,000 vehicles on this small 2 lane street and would cause major grid lock. When the bridge is up to allow boats to pass, the backup would be horrendous. Just look at the vehicle traffic trying to get in and out of Erie Basin in the summer. A bridge design like Ohio St or Michigan Ave. is just ugly to look at, not to mention ruins the view from Canalside. Add the traffic and parking issues there now, with hotels, the arena, restaurants, Naval Park, rinks, Explore and More, all with single lanes and no clear access back onto the 190, makes this a bad choice anyway you look at it.
A bridge from Lower Main St. at the turn at South Park where the NFTA train tracks are, that can’t handle 40,000 vehicles. Also, 2 bridges would be needed, one to Kelly’s Island (Middle Harbor at General Mills) and another over the City Ship Canal. This would double the price of a bridge alternative and a right of way easement from General Mills to build there. A lift bridge at Michigan St. is already out of the way and would cut right through General Mills and an active marina on the west side. General Mills said they would close the factory (300+ jobs) and cut the marina in two where over 300 boats are stored and 160 are in docks during the summer, where would they go? Isn’t part of the allure of the waterfront seeing all the boats? There’s a shortage of viable docks downtown now. Let’s say a bridge is built in any of these locations, it would only accommodate 2 lanes of traffic at 30 MPH and would then put them all onto Fuhrmann Blvd, another 30 MPH 2 lane street. Certainly not able to handle 40,000 vehicles a day.
Tunnel: There’s been talk of drilling a tunnel for years. Never mind the cost to build it – the approaches would need to go into bedrock. The entire river’s end is delta, silt, which is near impossible to drill through without it falling back in. The inbound end can start where the Skyway starts to go up (drill down), but the other end would come out somewhere in front of City Hall and too far inland to connect to the 190’s. A tunnel is not a good choice; the cost is out of proportion to the amount of usage. It would still have vehicles going onto Fuhrmann Blvd into the white outs. This sounds good but it’s not practical. If it were such a great idea, it would have been done already, engineers and designers know this fact.
The biggest issue is not just the Skyway but, the entire elevated section of RT 5 and Fuhrmann Blvd. between the Coast Guard station and the Union Ship Canal. Just getting from the Coast Guard Station to Ohio St. in white out conditions is near impossible, I know, I’ve done it many times! When it snows heavily and the Skyway gets closed, the alternative is to use Ohio St. Going south (west on RT 5) when traffic is leaving the city, commuters take Louisiana and Ohio St. then pass the Ohio St. bridge and turn South onto Fuhrmann Blvd only to be met with white out conditions leading to crashes, cars getting stuck, and the entire alternative route getting backed up all the way back into the city. Even the recent closures of RT5 East & West at Ganson and Tifft St. forces all vehicles to go East on Tift to Hopkins or South Park or flood the 90; talk about going out of the way.
The argument of the Skyway gets closed in the winter makes no sense, they close the 219 & 400 too, I don’t hear anyone saying we should tear those roads down. And the argument about no side lanes should there be an accident; well there’re crashes all the time on the Grand Island bridges, I don’t hear anyone claiming that they should be torn down either! All those roads and bridges need maintenance. It’s what we pay taxes for. These are political talking points. If you look at the facts, the Skyway is open over 90% of the time and does what it was built for, allows quick access to downtown and the 190, and clears the height of commercial ships and recreational boats. The DOT report done in 2008 supports these facts. It seems the politicians want to tear it down for the same reason it was built!
I like the drive over it. The views and quickness you can get from one side to the other makes sense, but that’s my opinion.
Here is my alternative. It would need to be studied, funded, and built before the Skyway can be removed. I don’t like the term demolished. If one were to look from overhead as a bird would, a Google earth view, you can see that the path is clearly there. There are old railroad beds with plenty of overhead bridges with height clearance at Tifft and Ridge Roads all the way to and from Rt 179 at the Ford Plant. The only grade crossing is at Lake Ave which could be altered. This route is just a little east of the present Rt 5 and away from the lake wind driven horrendous white outs. It easily connects to the thruway in Blasdell from the 179 and Rt 5 going down to Hamburg and the Lake shore area.
The Northern end can connect to the 190 at Solar City and Larkinville. Yes, it doesn’t bring cars right to downtown the way the Skyway did but, only a mile or so east, along with Seneca St, South Park, and easy access to downtown. It was once called the South Towns Connector but was never implemented. There certainly isn’t the train traffic of the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s. It’s too bad the City gave away the land in Red Jacket Park where the old RR bridge has been stuck in the up position for years – that could have been a viable alternative closer to downtown. This route makes the most sense, the path is there, ready to be built. Most major cities have the highways alongside the RR tracks (Metro Rail?).
The Outer Harbor area would still have the commercial ships and pleasure craft entering and exiting the Inner Harbor in the summer, and the snow issues on Fuhrmann would be alleviated. This alternative would route the traffic away from the lake and would open up all the valuable land there.
Whatever is done, it won’t be inexpensive, and the jobs to remove and replace are only temporary. Knowing past NYS history, if it’s a tunnel, there will be a toll to pass through the 1.1 mile!
As far as the Skyway for the future, there are plenty of ideas (once the traffic is gone), including run a gondola under it with stores on top. How about a moving sidewalk with large elevators at both ends? Maybe a giant plexiglass tube on both sides for bikes. And what to do with 48 vertical supports? The cost to remove the deck is one thing, the concrete supports are another, please don’t leave them to look like a Terminator movie set!
The NYS DOT will be spending $30 million to redo the entire deck surface; second half to be completed this summer. The Skyway is a signature bridge, light it up like the Peace Bridge, which works great over 90% of the time and it’s paid for. How many road projects in the area can say that?
Now where is my $100,000? Actually, it only $50,000 after NYS taxes are taken out!