Former mayor and current legislator says Robert Moses Parkway key to River Region's economic survival
by Joshua Maloni
More than two-dozen people attended Thursday's meeting of the Parkway Preservation Committee, which coincided with the display of six Robert Moses Parkway North alternative drawings at the Village of Lewiston's Red Brick Municipal Building. Former Lewiston Mayor and current 12th District Niagara County Legislator Richard Soluri served as moderator, and urged the audience to vote in favor of parkway plans maintaining or refurbishing the main road between downtown Niagara Falls and the River Region.
"This is what we're trying to protect - is our communities," Soluri said. "And we know with less traffic it's going to make it difficult for many of the restaurants and retailers. The 'extremists' don't consider these folks that have made major investments in the communities of Lewiston, Youngstown, Wilson; Olcott's on the rise.
"We've had to fight pretty hard for what we're doing."
And what they're doing is mounting a campaign for designs three and four, which favor keeping the RMP open, but with modifications including multimodal trails and enhanced connectivity between Niagara Falls and Lewiston and among natural and man-made attractions.
"My motto is 'Reject extremism and embrace reason,' " Soluri said. "I think we've been reasonable from day one, and willing to compromise. And I think a compromise position is the best way for all of us to go. It gives us the best chance of succeeding."
Youngstown Mayor Neil Riordan called plans to remove the parkway "shortsighted." He noted City of Niagara Falls elected leaders are opposed to keeping the RMP, but determined to fill hotel rooms.
"They want longer stays in their hotels in Niagara Falls ... and they don't have enough activities for people to stay those extra two, three, four days," Riordan said. "Here you have Artpark; you have the jet boat; we have Fort Niagara; we have two large, international soccer tournaments. This weekend there's a lacrosse tournament. These people, of course, stay in Niagara Falls, travel back and forth, and enjoy the entire Niagara County venue."
"The idea is one shared resource," he added. "Shutting off the gateway from the south ... is, as I said before, a 'sales prevention program.' "
Despite the impassioned pleas, State Parks Landscape Architect Andrew Giarrizzo told the crowd to remember the objectives established through previous public meetings. The project goals, as included with alternative evaluation and comment sheets, include improving access and transportation, promoting and conserving the ecology and environment of the Niagara Gorge corridor, supporting local economic vitality, minimizing impacts to adjacent neighborhoods, and supporting the Niagara River Greenway Plan vision.
"The thing to keep in mind as you review the plans are the objectives presented," Giarrizzo said.
"When you look at the plans, look at them critically," he added. "Say 'How well are they performing these things, and are they contributing to the success of that objective on many different fronts?' You can't look at it from the perspective of just yourself; it's a state road. It was placed there to provide public access. The environment is there to provide everyone an equal opportunity to get to the resource.
"Our study now is the 'how' part. How best to enjoy it; how best to access that; and how best to further the enjoyment of a public resource."
State Parks will accept comments on the six alternative designs until July 8. Giarrizzo said the draft scoping report is expected in late August, with a final report slated for the end of the year. The three or four designs with a "high performance of meeting objectives" will be deemed "feasible alternatives" and receive additional research.
•Giarrizzo said the biggest obstacle moving forward is where the money will come from to restore or remove the parkway.
"Our biggest limitation is funding," he said. "With funding made available, yeah, we can proceed. We want to proceed."
•Dr. Anthony T. Grana, a Lewiston Road resident, said he and his DeVeaux neighbors are not in favor of rerouting traffic from the parkway to their street.
"It's obvious we don't want all that traffic going down Lewiston Road," he said.
Grana said environmentalists received what they wanted 10 years ago: a minimized version of the parkway. But, he said they've failed to utilize the two closed southbound lanes.
"I don't see it used (for recreational purposes) - well, I see it used minimally," he said.
Grana suggested the idea that environmentalists would do more with all four lanes closed is "ridiculous."
•Canadian resident Brian Garrard agreed with Grana and said he once sat and counted the number of walkers and bikers using the closed roadway, and it was a paltry amount.
Moreover, he wondered what would happen if the parkway is closed.
"If these people want to walk, where are they going to park?" Garrard asked.
•Lewiston politicians were none too pleased with comments made last week by the Niagara Falls City Council. That body is protesting the village's new Seneca Street parkway entrance, as they say it encourages parkway preservation. The egress was added to alleviate traffic coming from Artpark's "Tuesday in the Park" concert series.
"I find that rather disturbing and petty," Soluri said.
"I don't understand why Niagara Falls doesn't say, 'How can we take advantage of this (Artpark) traffic?' " Town of Lewiston Councilman Ron Winkley said.
Earlier in the day, Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano said, "In a time of hard economic (conditions) that we are in, we should consider regionalism more at this time."
He said the Niagara Falls councilmen's comments, "kind of defeats the whole idea of regionalism."