Project will reduce congestion and restore an Olmsted park
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Friday that New York will construct a new traffic ramp that will connect the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza directly to the northbound Thruway I-190. The new ramp is part of the New York Gateway Connections improvement project, which will reconfigure access to the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza, reducing congestion and improving traffic flow for both commercial and private vehicles. This step, Cuomo said, will make the Peace Bridge a more effective conduit for travel and commerce between the U.S. and Canada. The project will also utilize the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Master Plan, which was adopted into the City of Buffalo Comprehensive Plan, to revitalize the historic Front Park by removing Baird Drive.
"This project is a win for the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the Peace Bridge plaza neighborhood, because it will provide efficient and effective traffic movement between New York state and Canada and improve commerce between the two economies," Cuomo said. "By removing Baird Drive and having Peace Bridge traffic utilize Porter Avenue and the Thruway, we will move traffic away from a residential neighborhood, provide better border security and restore the historic character of Frederick Law Olmsted's Front Park."
The approximately $22 million project, which will create hundreds of jobs, including planners, engineers, suppliers and construction workers, is expected to begin construction in spring 2014 and be complete by the end of 2015. The state is currently fast tracking the environmental impact statement with concurrent design build procurement.
The plaza enhancements will include:
•Reconfiguring traffic flow to a single point of ingress and egress to and from the plaza.
•Adding a direct connection from the U.S. Plaza to the northbound Thruway I-190.
•Adding a new access point to the Peace Bridge from the City of Buffalo via Porter Avenue.
•Removing Baird Drive from Front Park.
"The Olmsted City, The Buffalo Olmsted Park System: Plan for the 21st Century," which was developed under the direction of the City of Buffalo and County of Erie, details six goals for restoration of Front Park. The "U.S., New York Gateway Connection Improvements" project addresses several of the goals: restoring the historic integrity of the park from the period of significance, restoring and enhancing the park's gateways and edges, establishing connections to areas surrounding the park and restoring the basic park elements. While the restoration of Front Park is complicated by its proximity to the Peace Bridge, New York state will, through this project, provide significant momentum to achieving the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy's restoration goals.
In addition, air quality will be improved by the elimination of traffic lights at the plaza and on Porter Avenue.
"Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned Front Park as Buffalo's 'public face' to our northern neighbors," said Congressman Brian Higgins, who in 2010 joined with the Olmsted Parks Conservancy in calling for the preservation of Olmsted's gateway vision for Front Park. "This significant investment by the governor continues our efforts to streamline the flow of traffic across our borders while enhancing the corridor that welcomes visitors into the City of Buffalo, both of which improve the neighborhood while building new economic opportunities for our city and region."
"I want to thank the governor for his leadership in restoring park land to Front Park, which also includes a plan to move traffic away from the adjacent residential neighborhood," said City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown.
Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy President and CEO Thomas Herrera-Mishler said, "The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has long advocated for the removal of Baird Drive, taking bridge traffic out of this historic landscape and reconnecting Front Park to its community, allowing for another important step toward the restoration of Frederick Law Olmsted's first park and parkway system and enhancing the neighborhood. We applaud Gov. Cuomo for recognizing the importance of this goal and helping make it a reality."
State Sen. Mark Grisanti said, "I applaud the leadership of Gov. Cuomo, and all the partners working together on this project. As chairman of the environmental conservation committee, I am excited to see the green space persevered and restored around the peace bridge, and the jobs that will be created from it."
Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, "The positive impact that this project will have on Buffalo and Western New York cannot be overstated. The improvements to traffic flow will enhance commerce between the U.S. and Canada, and the associated reduction in congestion will help to improve air quality throughout the nearby west side neighborhoods. In addition, Olmsted's historic vision for Front Park will be restored for everyone to enjoy. Gov. Cuomo's commitment to progress at the Peace Bridge continues to bring good news for Western New Yorkers."
City of Buffalo Councilmember David Rivera said, "I am supportive of Gov. Cuomo's announcement that Baird Drive will be removed and land will be returned to the Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the visitors of Front Park. Additionally, I am pleased to see entry into the plaza will be improved to minimize idling vehicles. Moving the entry point further from the neighborhood is a positive step in the right direction towards a more environmentally friendly Peace Bridge Plaza."
NYSDOT Commissioner Joan McDonald said, "Under the leadership of Gov. Cuomo, the New York State Department of Transportation is commencing with a project to reconfigure access to the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza. The connectivity between the plaza and the adjacent New York state interstate highway system and local streets will be enhanced, improving the traffic flow on this strategic trade corridor in the City of Buffalo, Erie County and in and out of Canada for both commercial and private vehicles. The associated removal of Baird Drive from historic Front Park will help to better align the park with the original vision of Frederick Law Olmsted."
Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority Chair Sam Hoyt said, "Gov. Cuomo and New York state provided the much-needed leadership to move this project ahead. The U.S., New York gateway connection improvements to the Peace Bridge will provide access improvements to the existing U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza utilizing community and Olmsted feedback, while enhancing the operations of border crossing facility at its current location."
In addition to this NYSDOT project, the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority continues its work on the U.S. Customs Commercial Building renovation, a $20 million-plus project expected to commence construction in the fall of 2013 and take 18 to 24 months. The PBA is also advancing the Peace Bridge approach-widening project, a $10 million-plus project to widen the throat of the bridge on the U.S. side to facilitate smoother traffic movements, thus alleviating congestion within the existing Peace Bridge U.S. Plaza. This construction is expected to start in the fall of 2013 and take 18 to 24 months to complete.