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Keep Skyway in place, improve surrounding roads

Development of Buffalo's waterfront has been talked about for so long that most people, even those who could be directly affected by it, seldom get concerned. Can you blame them? But now there is money available from the New York Power Authority, and we must pay attention to what is being proposed.

Many kudos to Rep. Brian M. Higgins and others who have worked to come up with the money, especially since it does not come in the form of a tax increase.

But some of the ideas being proposed, such as tearing down the Skyway, are not in our best interest. The Skyway is a very functional roadway that has handled a large amount of traffic every day for about 50 years and has been recently refurbished at a cost of millions of dollars.

Lift bridges have been suggested, one at the mouth of the river and another at the old Michigan Street bridge location. There are two major marinas in this area with hundreds of sailboats requiring 40 to 50 feet of clearance above the water. On any given night between May and October, it is not unusual to see 50 to 100 boats using this waterway.

In addition, lake freighters frequently deliver supplies to General Mills and other businesses. So a lift bridge would be up often. It would severely limit the flow of traffic to the outer harbor, and provide inadequate flow of traffic between Route 5 and the 190 North. Unless we build a tunnel, we do not have a workable alternative to the Skyway.

The majority of people going to the waterfront will drive there. So what is the difference if you drive over a bridge, which blocks the river, or over the Skyway, which does not? The problem is not the Skyway but the confusing roads after you get off of it. We simply need a better system to get from the south end of the Skyway to the waterfront area.

Not enough attention has been paid to our boating facilities and the impact some of these proposals would have on the boaters and the people running the marinas. In the three major plans that were proposed for the waterfront, all showed additional boat slips being built on the outer harbor.

No provision was made for the service, haul-out and storage of these boats, which now consumes many acres of land both north and south of the Skyway as well under it. Most of the boats from the Small Boat Harbor, the Buffalo Canoe Club and Erie Basin Marina that are not trailerable also use the two existing marinas for haul-out and winter storage.

We need a long-term approach to the development of this area, and it should be done in phases. We should keep the Skyway for now, develop the supporting roadways and create a balanced combination of private investment and public access use.

Once there is enough development to justify it, a tunnel under the river could be built to replace the Skyway. It could carry car traffic and an extension of the rapid transit line for pedestrians, with several stops at strategic points along the waterfront. That way the goal of getting car and pedestrian access to the waterfront could finally be realized.

David Smith lives in East Aurora.

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