Reconnecting our Community: Peoples-Stokes, Kennedy, Higgins Join ROCC to Celebrate Transformational $1 Billion Investment in Kensington Expressway Redesign
More Than 60 Years After the Construction of the Kensington Expressway Created a Racial and Socioeconomic Divide in the City of Buffalo, Federal, State, and City Leaders Secure Funding to Restore Quality of Life and Reunify Neighborhoods
BUFFALO, N.Y. – New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes and Senator Tim Kennedy joined with Congressman Brian Higgins, Mayor Byron Brown and community leaders Friday to celebrate the $1 billion commitment in the 2022-23 state budget for the redesign of Buffalo’s Kensington Expressway. The budget also includes $30 million for the completion of the project’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS). The project has a broad support base from virtually all of Western New York elected officials and stakeholders. The news comes months after Peoples-Stokes, Kennedy, Higgins, and City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown called for the New York State Department of Transportation to expedite the EIS, in order to be shovel-ready for any federal dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
All four leaders underscored the need for significant federal and state investment in the Expressway’s transformation in order to reconnect the surrounding neighborhoods and reimagine the vision for the historic parkway.
The project seeks to redesign and fully cover a portion of Route 33 designated as the Kensington Expressway, to restore Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision for Humboldt Parkway while reconnecting the Hamlin Park, Cold Spring, and MLK neighborhoods. The project is seen rightfully by many as a way to correct past environmental injustices for communities of color that primarily reside in the neighborhoods that the highway has separated. These reclamation-type projects have become more popular in recent years as state and federal governments, alongside social justice advocates who seek to right historical wrongs of environmental injustices that have negatively impacted low-income communities nationwide by way of increased traffic and pollution which led to many health complications (cancers, lupus, asthma), environmental issues, and decreased property values.
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes said “Redesigning and covering Route 33 is a unique opportunity to address the generational harm done by the Kensington Expressway, when it tore into the Martin Luther King and Hamlin Park neighborhoods. These expressways have long severed and disrupted our communities and recreational spaces. Restoring these communities is a matter of racial justice, quality of life, environmental health, and community development. Prioritizing investments in the redesign of Route 33 will significantly help to correct these injustices. Eliminating these barriers would be a significant step towards reunifying neighborhoods in our city and healing decades-old wounds.”
“This billion dollar investment from New York State is a clear commitment to right the wrongs of decades ago by reconnecting the neighborhoods surrounding the Kensington Expressway, and restoring the vision that once united our greater community,” said Senator Tim Kennedy, Senate Transportation Committee Chair. “By prioritizing this project, we’re prioritizing vibrant, livable spaces that strengthen quality of life and celebrate togetherness. Today is a celebratory step forward for the advocates, including groups like the Restore Our Community Coalition, who have tirelessly rallied for these changes for years. Thanks to their work, and this significant commitment in this year’s state budget, we’re finally seeing this transformative project move forward thoughtfully and expeditiously.”
Congressman Brian Higgins said, “Transportation mistakes of the past stunted opportunities for Buffalo and its residents. This is a transformational moment and investment. Through this restoration project we are connecting neighborhoods, piecing together parks, growing economic opportunity, and improving the health and life quality of residents. The benefits will be far-reaching and lasting. Efforts to restore divided communities are a federal priority, and Buffalo is poised to lead the way.”
Humboldt Parkway was originally designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1868 as part of the Buffalo Parks System, connecting Delaware Park to Martin Luther King Jr. Park, formerly Humboldt Park. The expressway, designed by Robert Moses, began construction in the 1950’s on what is now known as Route 33 along the path of Humboldt Parkway, citing a need to relieve increased traffic congestion and maintain housing values. However, groups like the Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) point to the opposite effect decades later: decimated housing values in the surrounding community, thriving businesses and commercial corridors that became abandoned, and emerging respiratory illnesses attributed to vehicle emissions.