No plan yet for section leading to River Region
Paul Tronolone, senior project manager for the USA Niagara Development Corp., and Thomas Donohue of Parsons presented the "build alternative" plan for the Robert Moses Parkway North at a public information session Tuesday. They outlined a proposal to reconfigure traffic from Main Street to Findlay Drive, removing a parallel section of the RMP and reconnecting the City of Niagara Falls with Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge to make it "one place."
The south end of the "build alternative," which calls for a new park road to the Discovery Center and Walnut Avenue, creates open parkland between the DC and Aquarium of Niagara; establishes curvilinear pedestrian paths and short, direct and familiar routes between tourist destinations; removes a significant amount of pavement; and reduces traffic along the residential portion of Third Street. This area, while reconfigured, would offer traffic patterns similar to current routes.
Whirlpool Street would be enhanced, with straightened sidewalks, a grass buffer and parking area separating residents from the road. Yet to be determined is the placement of a stop sign. It could be on either Whirlpool or Findlay.
Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "We're going to get a first-class scenic street, if you will, a scenic boulevard, replacing the current Whirlpool Street and the current Robert Moses Parkway. Whirlpool Street is in terrible condition and beyond a simple mill and overlay.
"From a transportation standpoint, it's going to be an improvement. But, the thing that's really exciting is that you're going to get the largest expansion of the park at the falls, really, since the time of Frederick Law Olmstead. That's going to dramatically improve the opportunities for various types of outdoor recreation - in particular, the improved access from both the Main Street business district and from all the residential neighborhoods between Main Street and Whirlpool, is going to be very, very dramatic.
"There's been some very dramatic changes in the south end of downtown since Robert Moses Parkway South (partial demolition and reconfiguring) got started, and I think you're going to see equally impressive positive changes along Robert Moses Parkway North as we get closer to building an alternative here."
Two "after" images of Whirlpool Street.
The "build alternative's" objectives include:
•Improve Access and Transportation: This includes removing barriers that impede access between the Niagara Gorge Corridor and adjacent business/residential districts; providing an attractive multimodal trail; linking parks, communities and attractions adjoining the corridor; and removing miscellaneous temporary appurtenances (cones, barrels, etc.) on the current RMP, along with any surplus pavement.
•Promote and Conserve the Ecology and Environment of the NGC: This includes reducing environmental impacts of transportation-related activities; utilizing areas of pavement removal to help restore (expand) natural habitat; promoting eco-tourism and heritage-tourism; providing additional areas for enjoyment of the NGC's natural and scenic beauty; and protecting existing areas of natural habitat and restoring new areas to a native plant-based landscape.
•Support Local Economic Vitality: This would encourage visitor migration into local business districts; create an atmosphere that encourages visitors to remain in the NGC region longer; reduce the current RMP's function as a bypass route, while maintaining an attractive scenic link between communities; link a multimodal trail with the adjacent communities; and provide effective wayfinding information.
•Minimize Impacts to Adjacent Neighborhoods: The goal here is to promote vehicle travel patterns that minimize traffic impacts in residential areas; and improve the fringe areas between the parkland and adjacent residential properties.
•Support the Niagara River Greenway Plan and increase access to and connections between the Niagara River Region's many resources; celebrate and interpret the area's unique natural, cultural, recreational, scenic and heritage resources in the NGC area and provide access to and connections between these important resources while giving rise to economic opportunities for the region.
The current design of the feasible "build alternative" was developed based on the concepts presented at the February public meeting and from comments received as a result of that meeting. At that time, the six initial alternatives for the Niagara Gorge Corridor (which ultimately leads to Youngstown) were whittled down to three options, which reflected public input suggesting the ultimate plan from Main Street to Findlay should include parkway removal and reconstruction of Whirlpool Street.
"You heard about alternatives being assessed for the parkway. We came to some conclusions out of that conceptual design, and now we're in the next phase - the middle phase of design that's required by federal regulations - to basically do a little more detail," Tronolone told an audience inside the Conference & Event Center Niagara Falls.
Modifications were included based on subsequent meetings with project stakeholders and neighborhood groups that live adjacent to the project. Among the items considered were whether or not the plan maximized available parkland, connected neighborhoods with the park, provided direct access between tourist attractions, reduced impacts to adjoining residences and the overall cost.
The goal of the design is to construct a project that will best meet the project objectives.
The design of the project is still in progress and has not been finalized. A first crack at establishing a price came up with a figure of $33.7 million, which includes $7.3 million for demolition and $12.2 million for roadways and ramps.
Per a 2006 memorandum of understanding, the five project partner agencies include the state's Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (which owns the RMP) and Department of Transportation (which maintains the RMP), as well as USA Niagara Development Corp., the City of Niagara Falls and the New York Power Authority. NYPA built the parkway in 1961-62 in conjunction with the Niagara Power Project. It owns a majority of the land on which the RMP sits, as well as open space in the Niagara Gorge, and funded the preliminary engineering and environmental reviews.
The "build alternative" will serve as the basis for analyzing anticipated environmental impacts of the project. It is anticipated a full environmental assessment on the project will be issued later this year.
"This is still a work in progress," Donohue said. "This is certainly not completely done. We have more room to grow."
Another public hearing is tentatively slated for January 2016. Officials said they are hoping for a clean Design Approval and Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI, in July. The final design could begin next year-2017, with a construction bid target date of November 2017 and a commencement of construction in early 2018.
Public input on the "build alternative" will be accepted for the next two weeks. Those interested in leaving a comment can send correspondence to "Niagara Gorge Corridor Project," care of Parsons Transportation Group, 40 LaRiviere Drive - Suite 350, Buffalo, NY 14202. Email comments to: [email protected]. For more information, contact Tronolone at 716-284-2556.
"We urge you to submit your comments. ... This is what will help shape the project moving forward, in terms of our environmental assessment," Tronolone said. "So, we want to hear from you."
No proposals are in place for the RMP leading from Findlay to Youngstown.
In 2000, State Parks completed a pilot project to eliminate two of the RMP North lanes. By default, those two gorge-side lanes have become multipurpose strips often used by hikers and bikers.