Brian Higgins, a second-term Democrat representing the 27th District in the House of Representatives, has worked on regional issues, including the waterfront and the relicensing of the New York Power Authority's Niagara Power Project in Lewiston. He discussed economic development.
>Q: What is the best way to deal with Buffalo's declining population and tax base?
A: The best way to deal with declining population and tax base: New public investments in infrastructure and the life sciences as well as relieving the economically oppressive local and state tax structure. And lowering electricity costs by reclaiming Niagara hydropower to strengthen businesses in the old economy and better position emerging industries in the new economy. Last year, Buffalo stood up for itself against the New York Power and Thruway authorities and worked with the Transportation Authority to transfer valuable waterfront land to a local development agency. We need to build on these successes, not dwell on them.
Last year, area colleges graduated more than 10,000 new students into a local economy that lost 1,600 jobs. We're losing our young people and the investment we have made in educating them. This situation is wholly unacceptable, and is an urgent reminder of the real challenge immediately in front of us.
>Q: Why is removal of the Skyway so important to Buffalo's waterfront development?
A: The Skyway was constructed more than 50 years ago when the local economy was largely dependent on Great Lakes shipping for the chemical, grain and steel industries. These industries, now mostly gone, were situated on the Buffalo River and the Skyway needed to be high and lengthy to facilitate passage of commerce.
Today, the Skyway is unsafe, unreliable, excessively expensive to maintain, blocks access to the waterfront and severely undermines development efforts. The Skyway also must be painted about every 10 years, including this year, at a cost of $15 million.
Today's effort to replace the Skyway is not about simply tearing something down, it's about building this community into a great waterfront city again.
>Q: How will the Southtowns Connector and a lift bridge over the Buffalo River support the waterfront redevelopment plan?
A: A new, shorter-spanned lift bridge or bridges linking downtown Buffalo to the outer harbor will do what the Skyway can't do: get you to the waterfront safely and directly.
Today, you can throw a rock from the inner harbor to the outer harbor, whereas driving to the same destination requires a five-mile detour leading you to a series of broken, disconnected roads. Poor access is and has been the reason Buffalo's waterfront has not realized its full potential. Improve access, build parks at the water's edge and Buffalo's waterfront potential will soar.
>Q: How important is landing Bass Pro?
A: Bass Pro or no Bass Pro, Buffalo needs to move now toward an aggressive build-out of the inner harbor. A developing waterfront will do more than anything to attract new investment. We have more than $100 million in approved funding. Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Mayor Byron Brown are all highly committed to Buffalo's waterfront success. We need to move forward.