Major sections of the Robert Moses Parkway will be torn up next year and replaced with a landscaped roundabout and man-made pond stocked with fish from the Niagara River.
The $11.8 million project will take two years to complete and will be finished in time for the 2008 tourist season, Paul J. Tronolone, senior project manager with USA Niagara Development Corp., announced Thursday. "We've gone from no action to possible full removal," Tronolone said.
Projects are planned for just south of Niagara Falls State Park. They also are being contemplated for a 2-mile stretch of the parkway from the Rainbow Bridge to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge -- a stretch that could be completely removed, Tronolone said.
The parkway has been blamed for blocking public access to the Niagara riverfront since it was built 50 years ago. State and city leaders hailed the announcement as the first real progress to bringing down that barrier.
"For years there has been too much concrete between us and the Niagara River," Mayor Vince Anello said. "This will integrate the riverfront with our city. Residents and tourists alike will have access to the river and to the gorge."
Design work on the South Project -- the removal of a 1,000-foot section and 20-foot high overpasses where the parkway connects with John B. Daly Boulevard -- will begin this summer and take one year, Tronolone said. The roundabout will be the dividing point for traffic heading north into the city or west along the river into the state park.
The man-made pond that will be adjacent to the traffic circle will be a resurrection of a pond that was part of Frederick Law Olmsted's original design of the park in 1885.
The original Port Day Pond became filled in over the years and was obliterated when the parkway was built. A channel will be carved between the pond and the Niagara River to create a constant flow of river water.
"This is the first major step in a generation to reclaim the Niagara Falls waterfront," said Christopher Schoepflin, the corporation's president. "It will create a fantastic new front door to the city and the state park."
The second phase to reconfigure the Robert Moses Parkway -- the North Project -- won't bring dramatic results quite as quickly. The plan is to look at alternatives for the stretch between the Rainbow and Lewiston-Queenston bridges, including complete removal.
If that stretch of the parkway is torn down, Anello said, traffic between Niagara Falls and Lewiston would be redirected to a "softer thoroughfare," and would not interfere with daily commuters.
Anello envisioned a thoroughfare similar to the Niagara Parkway on the Ontario side of the Niagara River -- a two-way road with exits to viewing areas.
Both segments of the parkway reconfiguration would open access to more than 240 acres of riverfront. Several public meetings to garner input on both the South and the North projects will begin later this year.
Announcement of the project was heralded by the Niagara Heritage Partnership, an international coalition of stakeholders who have been campaigning for years to reclaim the natural beauty of the Niagara River and Gorge.
"This parkway work is more than welcome to the partnership and to me personally," said partnership spokesman Bob Baxter, "since it appears there are plans to recreate the reflecting pool, which was foolishly destroyed years ago as a component of parkway construction."
Nothing would please members of the partnership than the complete removal of the parkway between Niagara Falls and Lewiston. "We strongly endorse the idea that removal will be given genuine consideration," Baxter said. "We're confident that a thoughtful evaluation will conclude that four-lane removal along the gorge provides the highest benefit potential, both economically and environmentally."
The announcement also was welcomed by members of the Niagara Waterfront Revitalization Task Force, which has been fighting for years to make the river and gorge more accessible to the public. "This is a very important first step in breaking the deadlock about what to do with the Moses," said Paul A. Dyster, one of the founders of the task force and a member of the board of the Niagara River Keepers.
"It's high time we addressed this matter," said Dyster, also a member of the new Niagara Greenway Commission. "No one is going to be completely happy with this project, but it's the best path forward."