Removing parkway would connect Falls to 'greatest waterfront in the world' - The Buffalo News

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Removing parkway would connect Falls to 'greatest waterfront in the world'

The plan calls for removing a 2-mile section of the Niagara Scenic Parkway in Niagara Falls.

And it's getting some good reviews.

"We certainly see it as a positive opportunity for us," said Gary K. Siddall, executive director of the Aquarium of Niagara. "There's a lot of obstruction (now) with the bridge over the parkway and the parkway itself. It cuts us off from the tourist areas."

The public will be offered one more chance Thursday to weigh in on the $42 million project before state officials seek final approval for the work.

State Parks and USA Development Corp. will hold an open house on the plan to tear out the parkway along the Niagara River Gorge and reconstruct Whirlpool Street as the major north-south artery in that part of the city.

The open house will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday in the Conference and Events Center, 101 Old Falls St.

Two miles of Whirlpool Street would be rebuilt first, along with a small portion of Third Street.

Once that work finishes - expected in early 2019 - the parkway would be removed, said Pamm Lent, a spokeswoman for USA Niagara, the Niagara Falls-based arm of Empire State Development.

The plan calls for Whirlpool Street, now 45 feet wide from curb to curb, to be narrowed as part of a reconstruction that would include parking on the shoulders in some areas, along with new sidewalks and trees. The new pavement with curbside parking would be 38 feet wide while 28 feet wide in other stretches.

The portion of Whirlpool Street between Walnut and Cedar avenues, in front of the Aquarium of Niagara, will be eliminated, creating an open space between the Aquarium and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center. Vehicle access to the Aquarium would be available only from Third Street.

The drive to the Aquarium can be challenging for those who don't know the territory.

"It's possible to accidentally turn onto the parkway and drive several miles out of your way," Siddall said.

 

Once the state Department of Transportation awards the contract, 30 months of work could begin by spring, with completion expected in  2020.

The New York Power Authority would pay $40 million toward the project, with the rest of the money coming from State Parks.

"Basically, Whirlpool Street will flow into Third Street at Cedar, and then we will do a reconstruction of Third Street up to Main Street," Lent said.

A driver heading south on the parkway from Youngstown or Lewiston would encounter a stop sign at Findlay Drive, just inside the Niagara Falls city limits, and then would be directed onto Whirlpool Street to continue the journey, Lent explained.

"We are very much supportive of anything that keeps people downtown longer," said Susan Swiatkowski, coordinator of the Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association.

Putting more north-south traffic onto Main Street should help business, she said, although she acknowledged that for some drivers, using different streets would require "some changing of attitude."

The parkway, built in 1959, formerly was known as the Robert Moses Parkway, but the name of New York's onetime "master builder," now unpopular in some quarters, was expunged from road signs last year.

"It was never a parkway," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. "It was an 18.4-mile elevated highway that Robert Moses imposed on the people of Niagara Falls and named after himself."

Higgins for years has agitated for its removal.

"It cut off the City of Niagara Falls from arguably the greatest waterfront in the world," Higgins said.

Final design phase begins for turning 2 miles of Niagara Scenic Parkway into green space

The parkway between downtown Niagara Falls and Findlay Drive was reduced from four-lane traffic to two-lane traffic several years ago. The abandoned two lanes are deterioratig. In the new project, all four lanes would be removed.

The road would be replaced with a trail network along with rim of the gorge, with an assortment of spur trails.

But Lent said none of the spurs would enter the gorge.

Plans call for a paved trail to act as a spine for the new trail system. It would be a multipurpose trail running the entire length of the former parkway site. There also would be trail spurs off the main trail, also paved, as well as narrower offshoots, some grass or covered with stone dust.

The new spurs would provide new vantage points overlooking the gorge. The project would not affect the trailheads leading down into the gorge at Whirlpool State Park, the Discovery Center and near the Whirlpool-Rapids Bridge.

Once Thursday's public comments are reviewed, the DOT plans a final version of the plan to present to bidders for the contract in January or February.

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