As excavating equipment turned a crumbling stretch of Genesee Street into a shallow ditch, Sister Susan Bowles saw the dust-filled scene as a sign that citizen power can make things happen.
The member of VOICE-Buffalo, a faith-based civic-minded group, stood next to Mayor Anthony M. Masiello on Monday as he trumpeted the start of a $9 million street reconstruction project.
Plans to rebuild the one-mile stretch of Genesee in the Schiller Park neighborhood, from Bailey Avenue east to the city line, have been on a "to do" list for six years. Masiello blamed the delay on red tape involved in obtaining outside financing. Federal and state funds will pay for 96 percent of the work.
VOICE-Buffalo's Sprawl and Transportation Task Force made the project a priority. City officials listened.
"This is a perfect example of what can happen when citizens take on an issue," Bowles said. "I think this project would still probably be sleeping somewhere if people hadn't gotten involved."
Work on the eastbound lanes is expected to be finished by the time the snow starts to fly. Reconstruction of the westbound lanes will begin next spring. When the project is completed late next year, the neighborhood will have a new street, curbs, sidewalks and trees.
About time, said Josephine Szulczewski, a senior citizen who lives in the Schiller Park neighborhood. "It was a mess," she said. "I used to drive down the street, and you never knew when you were going to hit a big bump."
She agreed with Masiello's prediction that the improvements will help a struggling business district. The mayor said other street projects, including work along Hertel and Jefferson avenues, have helped fuel development.
"Where we've improved the infrastructure, we've improved the economy and quality of life in those neighborhoods," Masiello said.
Until moving to Cheektowaga in the early 1990s, Virginia Leahy had lived in the Schiller Park neighborhood for most of her life. But potholes didn't drive her out.
"My house was broken into 11 times," she said Monday as she visited with friends in the Schiller Park Senior Center. "I wasn't as concerned about street conditions as I was about crime."
But others say the multimillion-dollar project can help improve conditions in the neighborhood. "This is a major corridor in and out of the city, and it's a part of the East Side that has been neglected for years," said Bowles, a member of the Sisters of St. Mary of Namur.
DiDonato Associates is the engineer for the Genesee Street project. Destro Brothers is the contractor.