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Plan would fund redesign work on Robert Moses Parkway

The beginning of the end for the Robert Moses Parkway as it exists today could be on the way.

City officials and several state offices have come up with a plan to find $2 million, mostly in federal money, to pay for design work to reconfigure the parkway's northern and southern entrances to the city.

The highway cuts off access to the waterfront in Niagara Falls, but the issue has been routinely left out of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Committee's list of projects to receive federal transportation dollars.

A new proposal would move $1.6 million from the $15 million Buffalo Avenue renewal project, which is on the federal list, to the Robert Moses Parkway project. The city would contribute $70,000 and the state has pledged $330,000, Senior City Planner Thomas DeSantis said last week.

That money would pave the way to hire consultants for a final design of the parkway's southern entrance to the city and Niagara Falls State Park. The result will be a traffic circle at the John B. Daly Boulevard entrance to the city, improved pedestrian access to the waterfront and an elimination of the four-lane highway entrance to the park. Berms that have severely altered the original landscape would be removed.

Work on the parkway's northern entrance would include an overall proposal to remove the high-speed highway and create a Gorge/Cultural District in its place, DeSantis said.

"The Robert Moses Parkway question has become the Peace Bridge of Niagara Falls," said former City Councilman Paul Dyster, now a Niagara River Greenway commissioner. "This will be a single consolidated roadway that will be a genuine parkway instead of something we just call a parkway. It will allow access to water, and people in those affected neighborhoods will be able to walk down to the end of their block and see a view they've never seen before."

At best, construction on the southern section would begin in a couple of years, while the northern roadway would take longer.

"This is something the city has been pushing for and asking for since the previous mayor," DeSantis said. "Now we finally have what we think is positive movement."

A memorandum of understanding that spells out the plan will go before the City Council on Monday. If approved, it's expected to be signed by Mayor Vince Anello, and representatives of the state Department of Transportation; Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; and USA Niagara Development Corp., the state's economic development agency in the city.

Those entities haven't always agreed about what to do with the parkway, a question that has loomed for 30 years. DeSantis said USA Niagara played a key role in coordinating the partnership.

A state parks spokeswoman said Friday that the office "fully intends" to sign the memorandum, and others involved indicate that all stakeholders are on board.

"We think we all know what we want, but no one has ever put it on paper," DeSantis said.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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