Few subjects are more important to Niagara Falls – or anyone else who cares about uncovering the stunning vista along the Niagara Gorge – than the project to remove the misbegotten parkway that separates the city from its namesake river. With two recent public hearings, that effort has moved a little closer to reality.
Famed road-builder Robert Moses created a “parkway” as a conceptual idea in Niagara Falls, but never fulfilled the promise. He added insult to the roadway’s injury by self-naming the “18.4-mile elevated highway,” as Rep. Brian Higgins called it. It has taken decades since its construction in 1959 to take the necessary steps to remove this destructive barrier.
The public had another opportunity last Thursday to have its say on the $42 million project to remove a 2-mile section of the now appropriately named Niagara Scenic Parkway. The New York Power Authority, which made this mess, is appropriately picking up all but a couple of million dollars of the cost, with the rest shouldered by State Parks. State Parks officials will seek final approval for the work from the Department of Transportation.
State Parks and USA Development Corp. recently held an open house on the plan to remove the parkway along the Niagara Gorge and to reconstruct Whirlpool Street, which will then become the major north-south artery in that part of the city.
Two miles of Whirlpool Street would be rebuilt to start, along with a small portion of Third Street. The work is expected to finish in early 2019 and then the parkway would be removed.
Plans are in place to improve Whirlpool Street, which is now 45 feet wide from curb to curb. The street is to be narrowed as part of a reconstruction including parking on the shoulders in some areas, and new sidewalks and trees. There is more to the proposed work. It sounds inviting and less complicated for the driver to navigate.
For example, the drive around the Aquarium of Niagara might seem easier with the elimination of the portion of Whirlpool Street between Walnut and Cedar avenues in front of the venue. The result will be an open space between the Aquarium and the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center.
The time will go fast once the state Department of Transportation awards the contract. Then 30 months of roadwork could begin by spring with a just-around-the-corner completion in 2020.
This is one of several projects that stand to improve Niagara Falls. Others, including renovations at Niagara Falls State Park, are important, but this one is special, partly for its influence on the city, but also because for years, it seemed like it might never happen.