It’s going to be a big coffin, for sure, but another nail was pounded into the one meant for Buffalo’s Skyway this week. A study by Project for Transportation Reform – part of Congress for the New Urbanism, a group that promotes “smart growth” and walkable communities – has identified Buffalo’s misbegotten bridge as one of the country’s 10 “Freeways without a Future.”
All of the highways on the list, including Rochester’s Inner Loop and Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse, are elevated roads that the groups want to turn into surface boulevards. It’s an appealing idea, and one that makes special sense in Buffalo.
The 61-year-old Skyway is nearing the end of its life. It could be extended, but only at a cost of $35 million in repairs over the next five to 10 years and an estimated total of $117 million over 20 years. Meanwhile, a pedestrian-friendly bridge to the outer harbor could be built for around $75 million.
That still leaves the cost of demolishing the Skyway, but why maintain a structure that is, as the study observes, dangerous in the winter, functionally obsolete, structurally deficient and, to top it off, an aesthetic blight on the city’s finally developing waterfront?
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, is a powerful force behind the push to dismantle the Skyway, advocating its demise since he was a state assemblyman.
Due in part to his insistence, the state Department of Transportation agreed last year to conduct a “plausibility review” on alternatives for the Skyway, none of which will be inexpensive.
As Higgins has pointed out, several projects and proposals offer an alternative to the Skyway. They include:
• The more than $50 million effort that created an Outer Harbor Parkway at Fuhrmann Boulevard.
• An $11 million project that is transforming Ohio Street into a riverfront parkway.
• A study of proposals to connect the inner and outer harbors through a new Buffalo Harbor Bridge.
• A $2.3 million improvement project completed along South Park Avenue.
There are issues to be overcome, including the need to negotiate with General Mills and others to link the inner harbor to the outer with a lift bridge instead of the Skyway. But money and momentum are on the side of this alternative.
The Skyway is coming to the end of its usefulness. The costs of maintaining and upgrading it are too high to justify, especially when alternatives exist that will help people move easily between downtown and the outer harbor and the Southtowns, and that will return to Buffalo’s burgeoning waterfront the vista that is the city’s birthright.