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DOT official says more changes in the works along Scajaquada

Motorists who travel on the Scajaquada Expressway can expect to see additional changes next month aimed at calming traffic, while the long-term plans for a major redesign of the roadway remain unclear.

The state Department of Transportation offered new details Wednesday on short-term plans, including the installation next month of two pedestrian crossings along the Scajaquada – one at Hoyt and Mirror lakes, and the other at Delaware Avenue.

The “raised table” crosswalks will have a gradual ramp on each side and a flat middle that rises to curb level, along with high-visibility markings, DOT regional spokeswoman Susan Surdej said Wednesday during a public information session. The crossing just west of the bridge over Delaware will be controlled by a conventional three-color traffic signal, while the lakes crossing will be controlled by a HAWK beacon, or high-intensity activated crosswalk beacon, she said. New pathways will also be built to connect the crossings to nearby roadways.

In addition, the DOT will change out the galvanized “box beam” guide rail installed this summer between the expressway and Delaware Park for an “ironwood” guide rail, which will be “more in keeping with the setting of the corridor,” Surdej said. The combination wood and iron product looks like timber logs and has a more natural appearance, she said.

The new guide rail has been ordered and will also be changed out in October, she said. “That’s a fairly quick process that will just take several weeks,” Surdej added. “There’s going to be more work to install the pedestrian crossings.”

The moves follow other interim measures taken this summer, including a decrease of the speed limit from 50 to 30 mph, a reduction in the width of the travel lanes from 12 to 11 feet, and removal of acceleration and deceleration lanes “to make it feel less expressway-like and more boulevard-like,” she said. All the short-term measures taken so far have cost $1.5 million to $1.75 million, Surdej said.

There has been a major push to downsize the Scajaquada since a car careened off the expressway in late May and struck and killed a 3-year-old boy and injured his sister and mother in Delaware Park.

The DOT used Wednesday’s public information session in Frederick Law Olmsted School 64 to gather feedback on two additional alternatives for a major redesign of the roadway. The DOT was asked in April 2014 to analyze conversion of the expressway into a 30 mph street with one travel lane in each direction and also complete elimination of the road from Parkside Avenue to Elmwood Avenue.

The DOT now has 10 alternatives under consideration. Many of the approximately 100 people who attended the session had questions about the timeline for the project.

Surdej told The Buffalo News all the alternatives “are on the table right now” and said public comment would be incorporated into the official record for review by engineers and consultants. The next step, she said, is working toward a draft environmental impact statement, which is expected to be produced between December 2016 and December 2017, when a preferred alternative will be identified.

After a public hearing, and other steps, the plan can go to the design and construction phase. “We are working through that process,” Surdej said.

DOT officials told the audience the construction phase could take up to four years and cost up to $120 million, in up to three phases.

Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo, said the feedback offered at Wednesday’s meeting will help inform the DOT of residents’ expectations for the redesign.

“I’m confident that in those alternative studies there’s enough good pieces that we will then make into our final recommendation,” he said.

Ryan said the alternatives all contain speed limits above 30 mph, but that’s because they were devised before Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo permanently lowered the speed limit a day after the fatal crash.

“I don’t want the public to get the apprehension or misconception that they’re proposing something new that was post-30,” he said.

According to DOT data presented Wednesday, between 70 and 85 percent of vehicles are exceeding the 30 mph speed limit in the vicinity of Delaware Park as of this month. Also, 85 percent of drivers are driving around 39 mph along Delaware Park since the speed limit was changed to 30 mph. On average, 98 percent of vehicles are exceeding the speed limit between Grant Street and the I-190.

Ryan said he is having conversations with the DOT about removing the large green highway signs and median guide rail that divides the traffic lanes to further indicate to drivers that the roadway is no longer meant for high-speed travel.

The DOT also presented data showing that the lower speed limit has added an average of 1½ minutes to travel the entire length of the Scajaquada, also known as Route 198. It now takes between 6 and 7½ minutes to travel the entire length when, in March, it took 5 to 6½ minutes.

“We don’t know what the final picture of the Scajaquada corridor is going to be long-term,” Surdej said. “But, in the interim, we know that it’s not acting like an expressway anymore, traffic is starting to slow down and calm.”