Rep. Brian Higgins wants Buffalo to be able to make smart decisions on its future by having good choices for the community to consider, and one of those choices would include whether citizens want to get rid of the Skyway.
Most people have grown accustomed to the monolithic structure, whether they like it or not. Higgins has never been so complacent. He recently brought up again the subject of demolishing the Skyway in favor of a new bridge linking the inner and outer harbors.
But, not unexpectedly, a state transportation official all but shot down the idea of removing the Skyway, saying that tearing down the 1.1-mile span isn't on the state's radar screen. At least, not yet.
Department of Transportation Regional Director Darrell Kaminsky did what he's supposed to do. That is, he responded with the government's pat answer. Now Higgins is doing what he's supposed to do: moving the ball forward - or, at least, keeping it in play - for his constituents.
The congressman has been the champion of progress on the waterfront. He wrested from the New York Power Authority a settlement that accelerated payment of $279 million in long-term economic development funds. And he has tapped into federal highway funds to expand the vision.
Currently, there is ongoing design work for a new span, the Buffalo Harbor Bridge, being worked on by the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. It would connect Route 5 on the outer harbor with Main Street in downtown Buffalo.
Meantime, the DOT regional director confirmed that a massive repair bill for the Skyway could reach at least $35 million in the next five to 10 years.
Higgins wants to know the life cycle repair cost estimates - over the next 10 to 15 years - for the Skyway.
If a shorter and pedestrian-friendly Buffalo Harbor Bridge can be built for $50 million, will that save money compared to the life cycle costs to keep the Skyway in good condition?
A new bridge would do more than make it possible to tear down a waterfront eyesore. The Skyway lifts people up and away from the waterfront; a new bridge would welcome them to the waterfront and downtown Buffalo.
Higgins is right about this - the waterfront we're creating today will define Buffalo for the next generation. We need to review our options and get this right.