Lawmaker Proposes Waterfront Parkway for Fuhrmann, Removal of Skyway Bridge
Buffalo, NY—Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) today stepped up his call for quicker and more effective public access improvements to Buffalo’s Outer Harbor waterfront by proposing a plan to reform transportation infrastructure along Furhmann Boulevard and seek the removal of the 50-year old Skyway bridge in downtown Buffalo.
Under discussion at the present time are three (3) alternative proposals for the Southtowns Connector project south of the Skyway bridge in Buffalo. Although these proposals are intended to smooth the flow of traffic to, from and within Buffalo’s Outer Harbor lands, Higgins says that each of the proposals ignores the fact that Fuhrmann Boulevard is the vital Outer Harbor arterial and should see accelerated reformation with the funding secured in past years and in the recently-adopted federal transportation bill.
“We cannot improve the Outer Harbor without improving access, and we cannot improve access without dealing with the single-largest impediment to access, and that is the Buffalo Skyway bridge,” said Higgins.
Higgins says that conversion of Fuhrmann into a grand, two-way, urban parkway, in the tradition of the City of Buffalo’s Olmsted parkways, complete with high-end “Central Park-style” lighting and generous green space will provide a pastoral feel similar to that of the Niagara Parkway on the Canadian side of the Niagara River, and will be both an elegant and a functional manner by which both the promise and vitality of the Outer Harbor lands will be conveyed to the general public.
“In order to see legitimate Outer Harbor access improvements, people have to be able to get there, and when they get there, it can’t be by a 55 mile-per-hour highway,” said Higgins, who has been a proponent of a parkway solution for the Outer Harbor for many years. “The fact is that Fuhrmann Boulevard must be comprehensively reformed. We can do it in a relatively short timeframe, and we ought not to pass this opportunity up,” Higgins added.
Higgins proposes utilizing $12-14 million in federal funding to convert Fuhrmann Boulevard in a manner described above and utilizing additional federal funds to jump start the legal process of an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to review potential alternatives to the Skyway bridge. Higgins says that while he dislikes the amount of time that will be required to finally see the old bridge removed and new bridges constructed, delaying the inevitable removal of the bridge is foolhardy, and that starting the process of examining alternatives now will result in quicker action down the road, given that access will continue to be retarded by the presence of the 150-foot dinosaur.
“The proposals before NYSDOT today are fair, but they ignore the 150-foot high elephant in the room,” said Higgins. “Any plan to improve access to and from the Outer Harbor that assumes the continued use of that bridge is a poor one, and begs us to look at alternatives that better serve the people of this region,” Higgins added.
Higgins cited the maintenance costs of the Skyway bridge, its frequent closure in wintertime and long-standing safety concerns as additional reasons to search out alternatives as quickly as possible. Higgins says that the bridge is currently undergoing its once-a-decade painting (a cost to state taxpayers of $15 million) and is simultaneously undergoing structural repairs that cost an additional $9 million. Higgins says that the ongoing structural costs of the Skyway bridge mitigate any criticism that the cost of destruction and replacement will be too high.
“In addition to being a physical and psychological impediment to the Outer Harbor, the simple fact is that the Skyway is an old, broken-down roadway that becomes more dangerous as the years go on and as temperatures fall each year,” said Higgins, who noted that the Skyway is closed an average of nearly a dozen times each winter due to inclement weather, and is the only bridge in New York State with a mechanized bridge closure system. As for those who say the cost of replacement will be too high, Higgins adds, “In 1993, the City of Buffalo had a study with a tunneling alternative that cost $94.6 million, and as we know, that amount today will cover only a few paint jobs and sub-structural repairs for existing bridge. It’s not a matter of whether we will spend this money – we will, it is inevitable – but is instead a question of whether taxpayers will get value for the money that is spent, and I submit that we not get that value if that money is invested in this outmoded and outdated bridge.”
Higgins is looking to a series of lift bridges that, placed at strategic locations in downtown Buffalo such as Erie Street, Delaware Avenue, Michigan Street and Pearl Street, could better disperse incoming traffic from Route 5 and provide a more even and effective traffic flow to and from both the Outer Harbor and to the Southtowns.
“There are many steps to undertake in this process, but it cannot afford to wait any longer,” Higgins said of the process of looking at alternatives to the Skyway. “With the momentum we’re experiencing on the Outer Harbor, we have to look at this as a golden opportunity to continue to make real progress with Outer Harbor access improvements.”
Higgins concluded by stating that what has been done in cities like Chicago and Milwaukee, where urban parkways have been constructed and the result is a functional and thriving waterfront landscape,” said Higgins. “We can do the same in Buffalo, if only we are willing to do the hard work necessary to turn a vision into reality,” Higgins concluded.