Turns out the great Scajaquada Expressway debate is not over and state transportation officials really won’t pick up their money ball and go home they don't get their way.
That was what the DOT threatened in August, after concluding – reasonably – that a plan to unify the park would have created a traffic nightmare on Delaware Avenue. But facing broad opposition to its approach, the agency instead has decided to halt – for now – its $101 million plan to convert the expressway into a lower-speed boulevard.
Thousands of people protested the DOT’s approach and, although its plan represented a good compromise among competing interests, the agency did the right thing in shelving. It wouldn’t be shocking if the decision to drop the unpopular plan was also influenced by this year’s election calendar, which is expected to include a third-term bid by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.
Now it’s back to the drawing board and, with someone else temporarily in charge at the Department of Transportation, the threat to take away funding vanished.
The optimistic view: The state is hitting the reset button, listening to outside views and taking them into account.
It had already been a long design process to reshape 2.2 miles of Route 198 between Grant Street and Parkside Avenue. Right now, the Scajaquada has been reduced to an unsightly and, for many drivers, frustrating 30 miles per hour thoroughfare cutting through a historic Olmsted park. A change appeared on the horizon.
The state was supposed to announce later this year the start of a project to design additional traffic-calming measures. As has been reported in The News, it would have doubled the number of traffic signals, add pedestrian crossings and install wide medians at those crossings.
But the plan met with loud objections from people who wanted to reconnect the two parts of Delaware Park, basically undoing past mistakes by returning the stone arch bridge to pedestrian use. Opponents also raised a number of other points.
The outcry over the design plan was met by DOT determination to move forward. No wonder.
It had been more than a decade since the entire process had started, stopped and started again, dating back to the days of Gov. George E. Pataki. The final Environmental Impact Statement started in the late 1990s, an original concept that was far different from what many people in the two-thousand-teens wanted. Back then the state was tasked with figuring out how to make a more efficient highway with more efficient traffic flow. Over time, the values changed in how automobiles in an urban environment were perceived.
The widely ignored speed limit was imposed a few years ago now, following a tragic fatal accident. The accident had nothing to do with speed but it offered impetus to press harder on an expressway project. The problem is, the public did not agree with what the state produced which led to DOT Region 5 Director Frank Cirillo’s statement this week that a “consensus could not be reached with the many stakeholders involved.”
That was putting it mildly given more than two-thirds of the most recent public comments were against the plan. The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy collected more than 5,500 signatures calling for the state to stop the DOT plan before final approval.
Transportation officials devised a plan that appear to deliver a practical solution with concessions to enough interests groups but then it was met with a loud thud.
Now, the DOT and the public have to find a way forward that serves the park without creating traffic problems that will cause regrets. That will be no less challenging now than it was before.