(WBEN) Congressman Brian Higgins says the New York State Department of Transportation has now agreed to look into different proposals to possibly replace the aging Skyway, in a move that could lead to the demolition of the elevated roadway often seen as a barrier between downtown Buffalo and its waterfront.
"For the first time the NYS department of transportation has said they will look at alternatives to the skyway, and they should, because they are about to spend $125 million to rehabilitate the skyway again," Higgins tells WBEN.
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He spoke of the Skyway development during an interview about the "fiscal cliff" and other financial matters before congress. (at left)
"The economy of buffalo has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, which no longer requires maintaining a structure that is so long and so high and is so big, and it sits on about 30 acres of very valuable waterfront land.
Higgins has long sought demolition of the elevated section of road, and advocates replacing it with a series of bridges that could connect into downtown. He says his plan would save $68 million, the difference between rehabbing the current structure or building something else.
The move comes after heavy pressure from the Congressman, sending the following letter to state officials this fall:
A number of initiatives already in development will increase the capacity of the transportation system between downtown and the communities to the South. The planned improvements to Ohio Street (PIN 5760.26), the Buffalo Harbor Bridge (PIN 5758.17), and the Tifft Street Arterial (Part of PIN 5044.01) all enhance the potential for throughput. The Buffalo Harbor Bridge is particularly interesting in this regard. It would provide easy and immediate access from Downtown Buffalo to Buffalo’s Outer Harbor for drivers, bicyclists and pedestrians the first time since 1964. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is soon to be published and it could be under construction within two years.
Barry B. LaPatner’s book Too Big To Fail: America’s Failing Infrastructure and the Way Forward drew particular attention to the danger posed by bridges which are both “Structurally Deficient” and “Fracture-Critical”. Structurally Deficient means that “significant load carrying elements are found to be in poor or worse condition due to deterioration and/or damage [or] the bridge has inadequate load capacity.” “Fracture-Critical” means that the bridge was constructed without sufficient redundancy, meaning that “the failure of any one of its supporting structural members could result in the collapse of the whole bridge” The Skyway is the type of bridge about which LaPatner warns, as it is both structurally deficient and fracture-critical. The Department’s own report on the condition of the state’s bridges, issued last month, listed the Skyway as structurally deficient. It is also listed on a national inventory of fracture-critical bridges which was provided to my office by the U.S. Department of Transportation last week.
The analysis should not just review the engineering and construction costs of maintaining the status quo (as the Management Study did), but also the opportunity costs of keeping up this facility. The Skyway dramatically depresses the value and the development potential of the land around it. For example, the 27.5 acres on which a portion of the Skyway sits at the Outer Harbor contribute nothing to the property tax rolls. A preliminary analysis indicates that if this land were developed with a density similar to Buffalo’s Waterfront Village at the Erie Basin Marina, the County, the City and its School district would realize $15.5 million in additional property tax receipts over twenty years (in 2012 dollars).
The Skyway was constructed at a time when Buffalo’s bustling port received twenty million tons of cargo annually via lake freighter, and the frequent raising of the City’s lift bridges were a source of frustration to drivers and pedestrians. Now, Buffalo receives less than 2 million tons of cargo via lake freighter, and the city’s lift bridges are raised an average of 1.5 times per day. This makes the Skyway’s four mile long and 110 foot profile absolutely unnecessary and unjustifiable.
- The Skyway’s design means that it will always be functionally obsolete and unsafe for motorists in distress because of its lack of shoulders. The Skyway also makes no accommodation for pedestrians or bicylists.