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New Bailey bridges & park named in honor of late Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins


Mon, Sep 17th 2018 12:55 pm
Local elected leaders, friends and family gather at the sign unveiling. (Submitted photo)
Local elected leaders, friends and family gather at the sign unveiling. (Submitted photo)
Korean War veteran, longtime law enforcement leader forever remembered
Local leaders gathered over the weekend for the dedication of the Bailey Bridges and Bailey Peninsula Natural Habitat Park in Buffalo in honor of the late Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins, a law enforcement leader and U.S. Marine Corps Korean War veteran.
Constructed the same year as Sheriff Higgins' birth, the 88-year old Bailey Avenue Bridges, which had crossed Cazenovia Creek and the Buffalo River, were recently demolished and replaced with the new Sheriff Thomas Higgins Bridges. Union Concrete, a West Seneca heavy construction company, was the principal contractor. The bridges carry more than 20,000 vehicles per day and are the busiest direct crossing between South Buffalo and the rest of the City of Buffalo. Work included the elimination of a pier in the Buffalo River, the removal of which will reduce the risk of upstream ice jam flooding. The demolition, construction, design, inspection and related work were supported by $33.36 million in federal funding as well as state and city resources.
At the same time, greenspace enhancements have been made to the adjacent Bailey Peninsula Natural Habitat Park, part of the Erie County Parks System, at the confluence of the Buffalo River and Cazenovia Creek. The space provides direct recreational waterfront access to the public and includes an ephemeral pond as well as new native plants added to the wet and dry meadow areas, including eight trees, more than 40 shrubs and 11,000 wildflower plantings. Natural Restorations of Western New York oversaw the landscape project.
A new sign designating the Thomas F. Higgins Riverfront Bridge and Park reads: "Among the most accomplished law enforcement leaders of his generation, Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins served forty-two years in Western New York law enforcement, including as the Sheriff of Erie County (1986-1998), Undersheriff of Erie County (1977-1985), and in the Buffalo Police Department (1956-1977), where he had served as a Lieutenant."
Congressman Brian Higgins said, "Sheriff Tom Higgins was a friend, family man and fixture in this neighborhood. It is fitting he is memorialized in the community he faithfully loved and served."
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, "It is an honor to be here, remembering the life and legacy of Sheriff Thomas Higgins here in a place that he was so familiar with. This peaceful park will now forever be a spot to celebrate him and all he meant to our community."
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, "While he was best known for his role as Erie County sheriff, Tom Higgins started his law enforcement career as a member of the Buffalo Police Department. In addition to his 21 years of dedicated service to the residents of our city, he continued to contribute to the BPD as director of the Buffalo Police Academy, mentoring so many of our current officers as they began their careers. I think it is a very fitting tribute to honor Tom by putting his name on the new Bailey Avenue bridges and park for all he did to protect and serve the City of Buffalo, as well as Erie County, for more than 40 years."
Born in 1930, Sheriff Higgins began a three-year tour of duty with the U.S. Marine Corps at age 21, engaging in combat during the Korean War, serving in the 1st Marine Division, 11th Regiment, until his honorable discharge in 1954.
Sheriff Higgins earned an associate degree from Erie Community College, a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice from Buffalo State College and a Master's Degree in history from the University at Buffalo. He returned to the classroom again and again to lead lectures at local high schools, colleges and the Central Police Services Academy.
His public safety career began in the Buffalo Police Department where he worked for 21 years. As a Buffalo police officer, Higgins demonstrated leadership early, working as a precinct level detective, earning the rank of lieutenant and serving as a mentor to the next generation of recruits as director of the Buffalo Police Academy.
In 1977, Higgins began a two-decade-plus career with the Erie County Sheriff's Department. As the undersheriff, he collaborated with community organizations to develop the "First Time/Last Time" program aimed at reducing recidivism rates among young adults. He organized educational programs through a partnership between the Sheriff's Department, City of Buffalo and New York State Department of Education to help detainees earn their GED.
Higgins was first elected by residents to serve as Erie County sheriff in 1985 and continued in that role for 12 years. He established the Erie County Law Enforcement Foundation to assist local public safety departments with the purchase of specialized training and equipment. He also co-founded and chaired the New York State Sheriff's Association Scholarship Fund.
Throughout his life, Higgins dedicated his time and energy to dozens of veteran, civic and public safety organizations, serving as president of the Buffalo Naval and Military Park board of directors, a member of the Buffalo Commission on Citizen's Rights and Community Relations, president of the Buffalo State College Alumni Association and chairman of the Korean War Memorial committee.

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