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Effort to raze Skyway gets national push Study focuses on aiding urban revitalization

Two national organizations are stepping in to help make the case for tearing down Buffalo's Skyway in the name of urban revitalization.

The Congress of New Urbanism and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, both based in Chicago, are including the Skyway, along with similar roadways in Seattle and Louisville, in a study on removing infrastructure barriers to boost land values and investment.

"These roadways are a blessing for travel between cities, but inserting these giants in the middle of a big city was a great error," said John O. Norquist, president of the New Urbanism think tank.

Norquist, who as three-term mayor of Milwaukee oversaw the effort to tear down an elevated roadway in that city's downtown, said it was "an easy choice" to include Buffalo in the advocacy effort.

Describing the 50-year-old Skyway as "brutally ugly" and "unnecessary," Norquist said he's happy to get involved in planning its demise. "It's a no-brainer," he said, promising the upcoming study will make a strong case for tearing down the Skyway as part of the effort to rebuild Buffalo.

The study of the Skyway, along with Seattle's Alaskan Highway and a Louisville roadway that cuts off that city from the Ohio River, will be funded through a $110,000 grant from the New York-based Surdna Foundation. The results will include comparative data on traffic volume and real estate valuations in the three cities balanced against similar information from cities such as Milwaukee and Portland, Ore., where such barriers have been removed, resulting in private investment and public revenues.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, a longtime critic of the Skyway, said Buffalo's inclusion in the groups' effort will bring a national perspective to the push to come up with an alternative.

"This will not only confirm what many of us have been saying for years, it will give us a stronger position from which to press for federal and state transportation dollars," Higgins said. "This will clearly raise the profile of this critical project."

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he's thrilled to have outsiders quantify what Buffalo-area residents have known for decades. "This is another way to bring attention to what could be along the downtown waterfront without the Skyway acting as a physical barrier to investment and growth. This will be important ammunition," Brown said.

The independent review of the Skyway's impact comes as the state Department of Transportation is about to commission what it has termed a "preliminary Skyway study." DOT Commissioner Thomas J. Madison Jr. said the state study will look at the roadway's accident history, maintenance costs, impact on development opportunities and the estimated costs of possible alternatives.

Department spokeswoman Jennifer Post said the proposed scope of work on the highway is being reviewed by the Federal Highway Administration. She said the study would start this summer and take about a year.

Despite its detractors, the 5,800-foot-long Skyway is a key part of Buffalo's transportation infrastructure, carrying more than 40,000 vehicles a day between downtown and points south over the Buffalo Ship Canal and Buffalo River.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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