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State pushes forward on Robert Moses Parkway removal plan to improve Niagara gorge access

NIAGARA FALLS – After years of study and decades of debate, New York State has recommended one final design for removing a section of the Robert Moses Parkway in the City of Niagara Falls to give the public greater access to the Niagara River gorge and state parks there.

There is no plan to remove any part of the parkway between Niagara Falls and the village of Lewiston – yet.

The $42 million vision to remove the two-mile stretch of road and to restore public access to the Niagara Gorge between Main Street and Findlay Drive in Niagara Falls was unveiled four months ago by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, but explaining how that design is envisioned and how it will affect the neighborhoods that surround it is the next step. The state plans to open bids and put a shovel in the ground by the end of 2017.

A full realization of the plan is expected by 2019 or 2020, according to state officials.

The state hopes that removing the section of the parkway between Niagara Falls State Park and Whirlpool State Park will give tourists more to see and give hikers and bikers more trails along the gorge to explore.

The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will seek final comment on its Design Report/Environmental Assessment at a public hearing on Aug. 25 in the Niagara Falls Conference Center, 101 Old Falls St. An open house will begin at 5 p.m., followed by a formal public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m.

The first step – to rename the road the Niagara Scenic Parkway, was easily accomplished by changing some signs last month, but the real work of making it truly a scenic and open parkway that improves accessibility is the crux of the design report.

The state parks office studied six similar design alternatives that looked at the redesign of the Robert Moses Parkway from Main Street to Findlay Drive and also beyond to Lewiston. The state has proposed and will seek comment on a single “build alternative” it recommended, which specifically involves the demolition of a two-mile stretch of Robert Moses Parkway and removal of the Whirlpool Bridge Plaza overpass.

This stretch of parkway from Main Street to Findlay Drive was addressed in every alternative studied and will be Phase I.

Once this project begins, a full environmental impact study to address removal or reconstruction of the Robert Moses Parkway north to Lewiston will be studied, according to state officials.

As part of the Phase I plan, Whirlpool Street would be rebuilt from Main Street to Findlay Drive as a 30 mph road to accommodate the north-south traffic and potential future bus traffic. The plan would remove Whirlpool Street between Cedar and Walnut avenues.

The reclaimed land that once had been a highway will be turned into a pedestrian and bicycle trail network along the gorge rims, linking to existing trails within the gorge and to adjoining city neighborhoods. Amenities and associated streetscapes are also included in the plan.

The design report and environmental assessment evaluate the social, economic and environmental impacts of implementing the “build alternative” and the “no build alternative,” which would leave the parkway untouched for the foreseeable future.

Some of the positive impacts of the “build alternative” are an increased opportunity to access parkland, as well as the long-term potential to transform Main Street and the city’s surrounding North End by eliminating a “physical and psychological barrier to the Niagara Gorge,” according to the design report.

The Design Report/Environmental Assessment document is available for review on the State Park’s website, but it isn’t simple to find. Scroll down to Robert Moses Parkway North, and then further to Design Report/Environmental Assessment. That report is broken into six chapters, each of which is its own digital file.

Printed copies of the report are available during business hours at Niagara Falls State Park Administration Building, 332 Prospect St.; DeVeaux Woods State Park Administration Building, 3180 DeVeaux Woods Drive East; Niagara Falls Public Library, 1425 Main St.; and Niagara Falls City Hall, Clerk’s Office, 745 Main St.

Comments may also be submitted at anytime during the public comment period, which ends on Sept. 9, via email to thomas.donohue@parsons.com. Please include “RMP” Removal Project Public Comments in the subject line. Comments can also be sent by mail or hand-delivered to Robert Moses Parkway Removal Project, c/o Parsons, 40 La Riviere Drive, Suite 350, Buffalo, NY 14202.

This project is being supported by the New York State Power Authority, Empire State Development/USA Niagara, the City of Niagara Falls, and the New York State Department of Transportation.

email: nfischer@buffnews.com

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