The Skyway in Buffalo is old, obsolete and, unless an alternative crossing is found, will soon need tens of millions of dollars in upkeep. It would be money poorly spent.
It is a hopeful development, then, that the New York State Department of Transportation plans to conduct the first comprehensive study of alternatives to the 60-year-old bridge. It is the necessary first step in applying for federal transportation dollars that could defray the costs of replacing the structure with a more efficient, less obtrusive crossing.
That has to be the goal. Rep. Brian Higgins, a longtime proponent of replacing the Skyway, called the Skyway a “financial and maintenance disaster” and said if the bridge were proposed for construction today, it “would not be approved.” Indeed, the Congress for New Urbanism two years ago named it to a list of 10 “Freeways Without Futures.”
The bridge was built in the 1950s to accommodate a waterfront economy that no longer exists. Stretching 1.4 miles along the waterfront, it rises 110 feet and connects downtown Buffalo to areas south and, after some contortions, to the Outer Harbor.
But at 60 years old, the structure needs expensive attention. A 2014 study estimated that maintenance would cost up to $68 million over the next 25 years. Just painting the deck, exposed to high levels of salting in winter, cost $15 million the last time it was done.
It’s time for Buffalo, with the necessary assistance of Albany and Washington, to make a better choice on this unnecessary piece of waterfront infrastructure. We can find better solutions that are less obtrusive and do at least as good a job – and possibly a better one – of moving traffic between the city center and areas south.
This is the time to do it. Tens of millions of dollars are going to be spent in the coming years. We should spend them in a way that makes better sense than maintaining an aging and obsolete eyesore.