Opponents of plans to begin construction on the $55 million Southtowns Connector on Tuesday accused the state of adopting a "my way or the highway attitude."
During a special meeting of the Common Council's Waterfront Development Committee, the public was invited to sound off about the state Department of Transportation's plan to let bids on the project Thursday. About 40 residents attended, and those who spoke were decidedly miffed over the plan's failure to do away with the elevated section of Route 5.
"If [state transportation officials] would listen to the consensus of the community, this would be a good decision for the neighborhood," said Nathan Neuman of Shoreham Parkway.
"Unfortunately, they are very single-minded. They don't understand that they are here to do what the people request of them," Neuman added.
South Council Member Michael P. Kearns, chairman of the Council committee and Tuesday's meeting, said the plan the state seeks to pursue ultimately perpetuates the infrastructure of the Skyway.
Kearns said state transportation officials initially agreed to attend Tuesday's meeting but canceled.
Opponents and supporters of the new plan agree on the need to consolidate the northbound and southbound lanes of Fuhrmann Boulevard on the west side of the elevated roadbed, with two lanes in each direction separated by a tree-lined, landscaped median.
The state's preferred alternative involves retaining the elevated section of Route 5 and adding an interchange at the base of the Skyway to the newly reconfigured Fuhrmann, but opponents say that is a bad idea because it limits access to the waterfront.
"The boulevard plan . . . would bring down the elevated highway to grade, so you would get rid of that and go to a 35-mph highway, slow traffic down," Kearns said. "We could put a street grid in and have development along our waterfront, mixed use, multiuse development."
Julie Barrett O'Neill, executive director of Buffalo-Niagara Riverkeeper, which is a part of the 16-member Waterfront Coalition, called the state's plan "damaging to the community" and "eerily similar" to the nearly 50-year-old Robert Moses Parkway project along the Niagara River in Niagara Falls.
"This project not only doesn't create a beautiful boulevard, it reinforces what we have today, another set of highways for the next 50 years for this community," she added.