Rep. Brian Higgins had just added a new push to the age-old call for demolishing the Skyway when a reporter asked him Monday morning what was new, since the state Department of Transportation seemed to reject the suggestion earlier this month.
"Most fights that we take on in this community typically start with 'No,'?" Higgins told reporters.
The congressman then rattled off a few of those public battles, including successful campaigns over Thruway tolls, the New York Power Authority settlement and waterfront development.
Higgins beat the drum again Monday morning for demolishing the 56-year-old Skyway, and it seemed pretty certain that he's not going to take "No" for an answer on this issue, either.
Three weeks ago, a top state transportation official made it clear that tearing down the Skyway is not on the state's radar screen, at least in the near future.
"At this point, we have so many other needs, and competing needs, that eliminating the Skyway isn't a priority right now," said Darrell F. Kaminski, the state DOT's regional director.
Even though many have called for demolishing the Skyway, replacing the 1.1-mile concrete bridge is not that simple, and it would be very expensive, Kaminski added. At the time, he cited decking and painting costs for the Skyway that could reach $35 million in the next five to 10 years.
Higgins, though, used the state DOT's own numbers, from the 2008 Skyway Management Study, which called for spending about $117 million to rebuild the structure over the next 20 years.
It will cost more to maintain the aging Skyway - which Higgins called structurally deficient and functionally obsolete - than to tear it down, build a new Buffalo Harbor Bridge and turn Ohio Street into a parkway, Higgins said at a news conference.
The South Buffalo Democrat estimated that demolition would cost $20 million to $25 million, while the Buffalo Harbor Bridge, connecting the inner and outer harbors, would cost $75 million. The price tag for the Ohio Street parkway, which also would handle some of the former Skyway traffic, would add $11 million.
"Look, you're going to have to spend this money, anyhow," Higgins said. "You're going to spend $117 million to rehabilitate the Skyway ... or you're going to finance the construction of a new bridge that's pedestrian-friendly."
Higgins also sent a letter to the state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald in Albany, asking the department to analyze the alternative to sinking more money into the Skyway.
"We received the letter from Congressman Higgins today, and we're going to review it," said Susan S. Surdej, public information officer for the regional DOT.
Meanwhile, Higgins' opponent in the 26th Congressional District race, Michael H. Madigan, issued a statement citing the congressman's "ridiculous proposal" to tear down the Skyway.
Madigan contends that Higgins misused terms such as "functionally obsolete," since the span still can handle traffic, and that Higgins is "never at a loss for proposing obscene spending binges in the midst of a failing economy."
"Such false and alarmist language has no place in public discourse, especially from a congressman who represents the highest-taxed and third-most-impoverished city in the nation," added Madigan, the Republican, Conservative and Independence candidate for the congressional seat.
Standing at Canalside on a cool, sunny morning during his news conference, Higgins tied the Skyway demolition to the continuing development of Buffalo's waterfront, which has drawn an estimated 700,000 visitors to Canalside this year.
"We've had a great couple of years here, but we're just warming up," he told reporters.
Higgins pointed out that the 56-year-old Skyway was built 110 feet above the water so Great Lakes freighters could pass underneath to service industries that are long gone.
"The Skyway takes people above and away from the waterfront," he said. "The new bridge will bring people into the waterfront."