What to do with the Skyway – the stretch of raised highway that sweeps along the lakeshore suspended 10 stories above marinas, sailboats, grain elevators and 27½ acres of waterfront?
Politicians, a developer, a transit advocate and others, organized by State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, met Wednesday to discuss the future of the Skyway at the Pierce Arrow Transportation Museum.
“This is something that is not going to happen overnight,” said State Sen. Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo. Kennedy, a member of the Senate Transportation Committee, has long advocated tearing down the Skyway to increase private development and public access to the water. “This is a long-term plan that starts today,” he said.
Ideas included removing the Skyway and its barrier-like border along the water; refurbishing it so more than 40,000 cars a day can continue to drive on it; or, perhaps, turning it into an up-in-the-air park, like New York City’s “High Line,” an old rail line.
While it was clear the Skyway’s fate won’t be decided until a study is conducted, conversation repeatedly turned to another immediate concern: finding a way – by bridge, rail or tunnel and road – to connect the inner harbor downtown with the outer harbor, grain elevators and Small Boat Harbor.
“There’s no question that extending the light rail is absolutely essential,” said Laura Zaepfel of Uniland Development.
“If you keep the outer harbor an island, you’re not going to see anything happen down there ... We have to look sensibly at the whole waterfront edge.”
There was no consensus, except for the need to handle traffic, which is expected to increase as downtown becomes a more appealing place to live and visit. As proof, Grisanti pointed to 800 Canalside events planned for the summer season ahead, about double last year’s number.
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo, R-Massapequa, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, attended the session after seeing the Skyway. He got a good waterfront view from the 37th floor of the HSBC Center.
“I saw a great future,” he said.
Yet the Skyway makes him think of a highway near his home that handled half the cars. When it closed after Superstorm Sandy last fall, it paralyzed the community.
“You have double that traffic,” Fuschillo said. “You need to take that all into consideration.”