Having encouraged the New York State Power Authority to see the light of day, Rep. Brian M. Higgins now turns his focus to the state Department of Transportation. And as with the argument over power compensation for Buffalo and Erie County, the freshman congressman has a good case on the Skyway.
Higgins is urging the DOT to abandon its plan for a preliminary study on what to do about the Skyway and move straight to an environmental impact study. The advantage is that the EIS will serve the same goals as a preliminary study, saving time and simultaneously putting the project in contention for federal funding, should the study favor replacement.
What is more, Higgins is prepared to use federal money to pay for the EIS, taking part of $22.3 million he and others secured for waterfront development. There seems little reason for the state to refuse.
Nevertheless, acting DOT Commissioner Thomas J. Madison recently indicated to local officials that while his agency will conduct a feasibility study of replacing the Skyway, it will not now undertake an EIS. But as Higgins and others point out, an environmental impact study includes everything a feasibility study does, including the relative advantages of leaving the Skyway in place.
Also, as the congressman observes, the official bookshelves are already chock full of studies that remark upon the Skyway's detrimental influence on efforts to develop the waterfront. It's time to put this issue on a different track: one that will, as Madison wants, look at the feasibility issues but that could also make a replacement project eligible for funding when the next federal highway bill is debated, four years from now.
Elected leaders in Erie County, Buffalo and at least 11 other municipalities have said they want an EIS done on a Skyway project. Given its advantages and Higgins' offer to fund the work, the DOT should no longer be saying, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." We've come to it. Let's get across.