Congressman said information is critical as community decides future of Buffalo Skyway
Congressman Brian Higgins is calling on the New York State Department of Transportation to begin a full and formal Environmental Impact Statement of the Buffalo Skyway, including an assessment of Skyway removal and alternatives. Higgins, a longtime advocate for tearing down the Skyway, said the process is a necessary step in making the project eligible for transportation funding and giving the community facts to make informed choices.
The Buffalo Skyway is a 1.4-mile elevated highway built in 1956, when Buffalo's bustling port received 20 million tons of cargo annually via lake freighter.
"It is a much different time for Buffalo's economy, and the looming Skyway structure that once fed economic growth now hinders it," Higgins said, noting the Skyway currently sits on prime property at Canalside and an additional 27 acres of property along the Outer Harbor.
The Skyway is categorized by the DOT as: "Structurally Deficient, Fracture Critical and Functionally Obsolete." According to NYSDOT's "Skyway Management Study," extending the "useful life" of the Skyway by 50 years would cost $109.2 million to $124.9 million. The same report estimates the cost of replacement infrastructure to be $63 million to $87 million.
"Money will have to be spent on the Buffalo Skyway so the question we must ask ourselves is, 'Do we invest in the status quo or support infrastructure best suited to meet our needs for tomorrow?' " Higgins said. "Commencement of the lengthy environmental review process today positions this community to make the best decision moving forward so we have good information to guide us when the next big Skyway repair bill is due."
Higgins is also asking the NYSDOT to provide data on recent Skyway maintenance and improvements, noting an accounting of this work is not delineated in the state's transportation improvement plan (TIP).
Higgins pointed to other nearby cities that are ahead of Buffalo in addressing their outdated highway infrastructure:
•Rochester's Inner Loop East: Opened in 1965, the sunken inner loop circles downtown Rochester and is surrounded by neighborhoods, large employers, attractions like The Strong Museum of Play and public spaces that enjoy street concerts and festivals. It is viewed as a physical and mental barrier between downtown and the rest of the city. Plans are underway to reconstruct a portion of the Inner Loop into a new at-grade complete street. The project received $17.7 million through the U.S. DOT TIGER grant program. Construction began in 2014 and is expected to be complete in 2017.
•I-81 in Syracuse: Opened in stages between 1959-69 and built to carry traffic between Canada and Pennsylvania, the 1.4-mile elevated section near downtown Syracuse doesn't meet current safety standards and is nearing the end of its useful life. The NYSDOT and Federal Highway Administration identified four options in its scoping report; each exceed $1 billion. The NYSDOT is expected to recommend a preferred option to the Federal Highway Transportation Administration by 2017.
•Gardiner Expressway in Toronto: Built in late 1950s and early 1960s, the 11-mile highway across the City of Toronto connects the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW) to Don Valley Parkway. An environmental review of a 1.5-mile portion of the elevated expressway was authorized by the City of Toronto and Waterfront Toronto. Cost estimates are in the $1 billion range. Leaders are in the process of selecting the design alternative and expect work to begin in 2019.
Higgins said recent infrastructure efforts in areas around the Skyway could help support alternative routes including:
"For too long people believed change didn't happen in Buffalo," Higgins said. "Today we have a new optimism because we, as a community, are making things happen. A Skyway EIS is a signal that Buffalo believes it can do better. It isn't about tearing something down; it's about building something up."