Traffic lights, crosswalks and speed bumps will be installed along the Scajaquada Expressway/Route 198 in the next few months, while plans are worked out toward ultimately turning its full length into a parkway.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan outlined those plans during a news conference Thursday near the pedestrian overpass of Route 198.
Since the death of three-year-old Maksym Sugorovskiy on Saturday, when he was hit by a car that veered off the expressway and into Delaware Park, Ryan has led the charge to implement long-talked-about changes along the road.
“One thing we know for sure: 30 miles an hour will be the speed limit,” he said.
The day after the fatal incident, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald to immediately lower the speed limit, from 50 to 30 mph, and install “park-appropriate” guard rails where the expressway passes through the park.
Ryan praised the governor for taking such decisive action. “He pushed aside 10 feet of reports and engineering studies,” the assemblyman said, referring to years of research that hadn’t been acted upon.
But five days into the speed reduction, not all motorists have slowed down. Though numerous signs and message boards alerting drivers to the new speed limit were installed, many vehicles still exceed that limit, according to roadside signs that record the speeds of oncoming vehicles.
“People have been working on the issue of a calmer Scajaquada for a number of years,” Ryan said Thursday. “The good news is that the debate over the Scajaquada highway is over.”
Ultimately, changing the road’s designation from an “urban principal arterial expressway” to a “parkway” requires federal approval, said Ryan, who had no timetable for when that might occur. “Downgrading a road is not something people usually do,” he said.
Meanwhile, the DOT has agreed to change its classification of the Scajaquada to “urban minor arterial.” Doing so would make it “just a plain old city road,” Ryan said.
The DOT will be looking at a variety of interim traffic-calming measures, which could include repainting and narrowing the lanes. Those calming measures are “to send a message to drivers this is a 30 mph roadway,” Ryan said.
Changes to the road will cover its entire 3.2-mile length. “We’re not just looking at these measures to take place in a small area. We’re looking at the whole stretch,” Ryan said.
The DOT will consider closing down the expressway on some weekends this summer to study the impact on traffic patterns. Engineers also will study traffic patterns related to the new speed limit and teams of engineers with experience in highway downgrades will be coming to Buffalo to study the expressway.
“The community will be heard through all of this,” Ryan said.
According to the Assemblyman, engineers in previous studies predicted that lowering the speed limit to 30 would result in “car-mageddon” on the major highways feeding into the Scajaquada. “That hasn’t happened this week,” he added.
But in an email to the Buffalo News, Samuel LaMarca of Grand Island offered this observation of traffic on the Niagara Thruway during the morning commute.
“While the events last week were tragic and something needed to be done about the safety of the 198, I have noticed that the backup on the 190 has been unusually bad this week with good weather,” he wrote. “It seems to me that drivers are now avoiding the 198.”
Delaware Council Member Michael LoCurto said Thursday that when he heard about the speed reduction, he thought: “Well, that’s a good start.”
LoCurto noted traffic flowing by during the news conference.
“It feels strange driving 30 miles per hour on the Scajaquada because it’s designed to be an expressway,” he said.
Michael DeLuca is chairman of the Parkside Community Association’s Traffic Committee.
“We are relieved with the reduction in the speed,” he said. “It has taken too long for us to get to this point and it’s cost too much.”