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Congressman Brian Higgins stands in front of the Buffalo Skyway.
Congressman Brian Higgins stands in front of the Buffalo Skyway.

Higgins calls for changes to proposed NYSDOT Skyway rehab plan


Tue, Aug 29th 2017 05:30 pm
Congressman outlines short-term steps to provide relief to commuters & urges vision to reimagine Western New York beyond status quo
As the New York State Department of Transportation sets out to begin a more than $27 million rehabilitation of the Buffalo Skyway, Congressman Brian Higgins is calling for the agency to rethink investments beyond those structurally necessary for public safety while also implementing sensible traffic technology measures that could make a big difference for Southtown commuters.
"Too often, the people of Western New York are made to believe that small improvements to existing conditions are the best we can do," Higgins said. "We need to have the vision to reimagine Western New York beyond the status quo. Redevelopment of the Buffalo waterfront, removal of the tolls, demolition of the Robert Moses Parkway were once 'not in my lifetime' projects, but this community deserved better, stood up for itself and demanded change. Removal of the Buffalo Skyway presents a similar opportunity."
Higgins noted the Skyway is prone to frequent closures due to accidents and severe weather. In his letter to the NYSDOT, he wrote this experience allows people to better understand how commuters use alternate routes, which, in the case of the Skyway, includes detours via Ohio Street, South Park Avenue, Seneca Street and other roadways. Armed with this information, Higgins is calling on the NYSDOT to "invest in synchronizing the signalization of at least three arteries, and possibly others, in order to increase throughput capacity during construction."
The congressman points out the recent synchronization of signals on Clinton Street in Buffalo resulted in a 36 percent reduction in travel time in that corridor at a cost of $4,000 per signal. Applying similar measures, synchronization along the three primary Skyway alternative routes, which include 45 signals in total, would allow for increased capacity and/or reduced travel time during Skyway rehab and well into the future at a cost less than $200,000.
Higgins is also suggesting a portion of the more than $27 million slated for Skyway improvements instead be invested in resurfacing and other improvements to alternative arteries. While Ohio Street was recently reconstructed and portions of Seneca Street and South Park Avenue have been resurfaced, portions of these streets are in poor condition and still require resurfacing. The congressman said between $5 million and $7 million in funds be diverted from the proposed Skyway rehabilitation to address these gaps on these streets in order to pave the way for a more efficient ride with the added benefit of reactivating the Seneca and South Park business districts with more vehicles and people.
Higgins said, "The DOT Skyway rehab project is scheduled to take two years at a cost of more than $27 million and will extend the life of the highway for another 20 years. While we certainly support efforts to maintain transportation safety, until we conduct a formal review of our options, it seems an investment of that extent may not be prudent. So we are calling for a portion of the funding allocated to be redirected to technology and infrastructure improvements along alternative routes."
The Buffalo Skyway is a 1.4-mile elevated highway opened in 1956 when Buffalo's bustling port received 20 million tons of cargo annually via lake freighter. Today, the structure looms over prime property at Canalside and an additional 27 acres of property along the Outer Harbor.
Higgins first major push for Skyway removal came in 2012 when the congressman pointed out a new bridge could be safer, more cost-effective and a better transportation option for a growing and changing city and waterfront.
New York state highway bridge data confirms the Buffalo Skyway is found to be "functionally obsolete" under federal highway standards, due to its lack of shoulders, a feature which, due to its design, will never be corrected and frequently causes the highway to shut-down completely when accidents occur. The Skyway is also rated "structurally deficient" based on inspection numbers, and "fracture critical," which means failure of any one of a number of structural elements would lead to a catastrophic failure. A 2008 Skyway management study listed the cost of maintaining the structure for another 50 years at $117 million.
"So the question before us is: Do we invest well over $100 million to preserve the flawed infrastructure of the past, or do we take bold steps to build the infrastructure that meets the needs of today's Buffalo?" Higgins said. "The NYSDOT should move quickly on an objective environmental review, which will give us the tools to make a smart decision about the future of the Skyway."
In May 2016, Higgins called for and in July 2016 the NYSDOT agreed to conduct a full and formal Environmental Impact Study that looks at the future of the Buffalo Skyway. A year has passed and the EIS has yet to begin, so, earlier this month, Higgins again pressed the DOT to officially commence the study, which will look at Skyway removal and alternatives. Higgins said New York state is investing more than $58 billion in bridges and transportation projects downstate, and said he believes removing and replacing the Skyway should be a state priority, as well.
Bids for Skyway rehab are expected to open in early 2018, with construction set to commence in the spring of 2018 and continue through June 2020.

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