Country roads may take you to the home where you belong, as the popular song suggests, but if suburban sprawl has taken hold, the trip can be painfully slow and unpleasant. Once-placid roads, never built for a lot of traffic, become clogged as subdivisions and shopping centers pop up farther and farther from the established routes near the city.
From such a dilemma springs new interest in building a New York Thruway on-and-off ramp at Broadway in Cheektowaga. The tale serves to illustrate the need for regional planning and vision in Buffalo and its surrounding communities.
Outward housing development without much thought to the regional consequences creates problems that need to be solved in the best way they can be, but the fix always comes after the fact.
Officials led by Assemblyman Paul A. Tokasz, D-Cheektowaga, and Cheektowaga Supervisor Dennis H. Gabryszak want the Thruway Authority to study the possibility of ramps at Broadway near Ludwig Avenue. The idea is to provide an option for drivers, easing traffic congestion on residential William Street. Tie-ups there have become a regular occurance since the William Street Thruway interchange was opened in 1992.
The congestion extends easterly to Union Road, where William Street ends, and then to residential Losson Road, which is the east-west street that effectively serves as an extension of William. One result is a troublesome bottleneck on Union Road between William and Losson as drivers try to negotiate intersection turns. At busy times of day, it can take numerous light changes to accomplish the move.
Tokasz, who lives in the neighborhood, says there is bumper-to-bumper traffic for a half-mile or more in both morning and evening rush hours. In short, this part of Cheektowaga has become a rugged traffic pass-through for residents of new housing developments to the east, mostly in South Cheektowaga and Lancaster. Growth in that direction continues.
The lesson here is that land-use planning needs to look beyond immediate neighborhoods and town boundaries. Transportation is always a concern. Before allowing a break into yet another open country space for new housing, towns and regional planners should ascertain how the residents of the new development will get from one place to another and what the consequences of their routes may be.
Will the result be problems for others who live along the routes? Will there be fearsome tie-ups as roadways and intersections are overburdened? What will be solutions to the problems? Are they feasible? In what time span? What are the costs? Who pays?
If such questions cannot be answered well, it would be sensible to forget the new development in question, especially in a region like ours where overall population is, at best, static. Sprawling we are, but growing we are not.
People who can afford it will always want new housing, of course, with modern design and amenities. But there should be consideration of putting more of it in established areas where gaps have opened up as population spread out. Some creativity is wanted.
As the Cheektowaga dilemma shows, the questions go beyond town boundaries to involve other towns and various highway agencies. In this case, in addition to Thruway possibilities, state transportation officials are looking at road redesign that would speed traffic in the William-Union-Losson bottleneck. Costs will not be light.
The new Broadway connection to the Thruway would not be an elaborate interchange. There would be just an eastbound exit and a westbound entrance, but that should be enough.
The idea merits serious consideration as a fix to an existing problem created by sprawl. In the future, though, we need to manage our development better and, yes, with a regional focus.