By Jim Rudnicki
Recently a number of politicians have called for demolition of the Skyway, calling it a hindrance to waterfront development and an obsolete structure with high maintenance costs.
Opponents of demolition claim that without alternative routes for the 40,000 vehicles per day using the elevated bridge, removal is not practical. A plan is needed to shunt most of the traffic around the waterfront so that demolition of the Skyway may eventually happen. Here is one such plan.
Of the three recommendations of the Southtowns Connector study, the Tifft Street to I-190 link should have been implemented first. Surprisingly, it was not funded. Fuhrmann Boulevard reconstruction was premature and the elevated Route 5 was a waste of taxpayer money.
The Tifft to I-190 link would route traffic from Tifft along the railroad right of way east of Tifft Nature Preserve and cross the Buffalo River at a point where a lift bridge would not be necessary. This proposed roadway should be extended to tie into Route 5 in Lackawanna near Smokes Creek so that most traffic would avoid the waterfront.
The current proposed Buffalo harbor bridge project for lift bridges from downtown to Fuhrmann should be scrapped. When the various options for this project were being evaluated, only one tunnel option was examined. This was a bored tunnel from Erie Street to the outer harbor. A bored tunnel would be deep under the river and require very long approaches.
While these options were being evaluated, the Turkish government was constructing a 1.4-kilometer subway tunnel under the Bosporus Strait to connect the two parts of the city of Istanbul. The method used was called immersed tube tunneling, in which huge sections of tunnel were constructed off site and lowered into place from ships. Some sections of the tunnel were 200 feet deep yet no problems were encountered. By contrast the Buffalo River is about 700 feet wide and about 20 feet of depth is needed for lake vessels. A trench would need to be excavated to lay the “pipe” and this tunnel would accommodate vehicles, pedestrians and light rail to the outer harbor.
A tunnel has huge advantages over the two lift bridges proposed for the Main Street location and would likely cost about the same over an extended period of time, as no operators are needed and maintenance costs are much less. Best of all, a tunnel would have almost no visible footprint in the historic Canalside area.
Finally, reconnecting Hamburg Turnpike to Fuhrmann Boulevard with a bridge over the Union Ship Canal would provide access to the waterfront from the south and also provide a snow emergency route. All these infrastructure changes are needed to truly revitalize our waterfront.
Jim Rudnicki is a retired engineer residing in Lake View.