Soon after adding Niagara Falls to his expanded congressional district, Rep. Brian Higgins took aim at the thoroughfare that is one of the city’s most recognized and, arguably, most despised: the Robert Moses Parkway.
The parkway, he said, is “ruinous” to the city and its waterfront, and it needs to be ripped out.
But Higgins may soon get a lesson in just how difficult it is to get things done in Niagara Falls – even when many people in the city agree with the idea.
Just look at his demand that the New York Power Authority pay the parkway removal tab of more than $120 million.
Seems like a good idea, many residents said, especially since the state takes most of the profits from the massive power project near the falls.
Local officials nodded in agreement, hopeful that the Buffalo congressman would deliver the type of results he secured for Buffalo’s waterfront.
With the help of a new federal leader, others thought, Niagara Falls might have a new rallying cry to unite its warring officials and agencies.
But not even two weeks had passed before another controversy broke last week, this time pitting the state against the city.
City Council leaders, buoyed by a former city official, now say the state’s previously announced plans for the parkway’s southern strip are not good enough.
They agree with the state’s plan to connect pedestrians with the waterfront near the entrance to Niagara Falls State Park. And they’re on board with plans to lower an embankment that cuts off waterfront views from homes close to the falls.
But the state’s intention to keep two lanes of the Moses expressway running from John B. Daly Boulevard to Niagara Falls State Park is not winning many allies.
Rather than converting the short strip of highway into a low-speed “riverway,” the state should rip out the Moses beyond the Daly Boulevard interchange, said Council Chairman Glenn A. Choolokian.
That would ensure the millions of travelers who flock to the falls each year have to pass through the city before entering the state park, added Harvey Albond, a former city manager.
“I think it would enhance existing businesses and create opportunities for new businesses,” Albond said. “It’s obviously a bypass for the city, and we haven’t made downtown development attractive. I see a lot of empty spaces.”
“They can call it the ‘Riverway,’ but I call it the Niagara Falls bypass,”Albond continued. “They invoke the name Olmsted, but Olmsted had the good sense to point out that there should not be commercial development within the park, that it should be accommodated in the [city] adjacent to the state park.”
The latest flap has flabbergasted officials in City Hall, the state parks agency and other stakeholders in the parkway plan, who say the plan is near completion and past the public comment stage.
The city wanted the parkway to be removed at the southern entrance to the state park, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said, and took that stance at the beginning of negotiations.
But as in years past, the state wouldn’t budge, Dyster and others said.
At best, they say, the “Riverway” plan with two low-speed lanes mirrors the Niagara Parkway in Niagara Falls, Ont. It also represents a compromise among at least four city and state agencies who have worked for years to put the plan together, a plan U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer is eager to help fund.
And the latest flap centers around only a relatively small portion of the parkway. The part of the roadway stretching from the North Grand Island Bridges to Daly Boulevard likely would remain intact.
The longer portion of the parkway – from Niagara Falls to Lewiston – is still in the design phase, and leaders acknowledge it will be years before a final design is chosen, funds are allocated, and construction begins.
No one is predicting the Council’s objections will ultimately put a stop to the southern plan, and city leaders say they at least want to put their thoughts on the record.
But to Albond, the former city official, the cause has become something to rally around.
“I will never say never,” he said last week of the state’s changing its mind.
As for Higgins, he would not endorse either vision but said that “top-down planning is what caused this problem” of the parkway in the first place.
“Much like the Peace Bridge and the Buffalo waterfront, our effort is not to decide what the end result will look like, but find a way to get things done,” Higgins said.
“My role is to fight for resources for our region, in order to help the local community implement its vision, not to impose my vision on the local community. We have identified a significant, responsible and achievable resource, and we will stand with Niagara Falls in the effort to move projects from concept to completion.”