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Plans move forward to remove part of Robert Moses Parkway in Falls

NIAGARA FALLS – Efforts forge ahead to rip out a portion of a roadway that many see as cutting off the city from its waterfront.

Planners on Tuesday outlined the latest proposed design that would see the Robert Moses Parkway removed from along the Niagara River Gorge between Main Street and Findlay Drive and replaced with open green space, trails and scenic overlooks.

The project, said to be in its “middle phase” of design, calls for traffic to be rerouted onto Whirlpool Street, which would be reconstructed.

One of the goals of the project is to boost the possibilities for economic development, especially in the city’s North End, including along Main Street, which officials say has a chance to be a “waterfront Main Street” when this project is concluded.

“We have an opportunity here to create a really special couple of miles right inside the city of Niagara Falls and reconnect the city to its waterfront,” said Christopher J. Schoepflin, regional director of Empire State Development.

Other goals of the project are to restore the gorge rim and to improve public access.

An estimate unveiled Tuesday, which officials said included a good deal of contingencies since further planning is still required, peg the project costs at around $34 million.

Over the summer, planners basically “redid all the traffic analyses” because of some concerns raised earlier this year about the figures, said Paul Tronolone, senior project manager for USA Niagara Development Corp., one of several state agencies involved in the effort.

The concerns included the fact that the initial study was done when Lewiston Road was being reconstructed, thereby altering traffic volume, and also didn’t account for seasonal increases.

Their results, Tronolone said, again found that Whirlpool will be able to easily handle traffic projections.

As the environmental review continues, planners hope the federal government will issue its design approval in the first quarter of 2016, with plans calling for construction bids to go out in November 2017. Officials said construction would take about two years.