The Scajaquada Expressway will become Scajaquada Boulevard, as early as 2018.
State Department of Transportation officials on Wednesday evening outlined a series of short-term changes planned this year, and a major redesign intended to calm traffic on the 1960s-era expressway, which daily carries 50,000 cars and trucks across North Buffalo between the Kensington Expressway and Niagara Thruway.
“We’re confident that this is not only the best way to move forward but the right way to move forward,” Matthew J. Driscoll, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, told an audience of several hundred people during a public information session at SUNY Buffalo State.
Driscoll announced several changes to the expressway coming this spring, including installation of temporary gateway signs at each end of the corridor, restriping and narrowing of the westbound travel lanes in the east end of the corridor and installation of rumble strips along the eastbound lanes of the west end of the corridor.
The gateway signs are intended to announce a “sense of arrival” in Delaware Park, and could take the form of banners or plaques, Driscoll said. “We want your input,” he said.
Additional electronic variable messaging signs also will be installed indicating the lower 30 mph speed limit and will be moved periodically to ensure motorists are aware of them, he said. “Reduced speed ahead” signs with flashing light beacons to provide advance warning of the lower speed limit also will be placed along the corridor.
Driscoll also announced an accelerated timeline for the comprehensive project. The DOT expects to complete an environmental review process this year, sign a construction contract and complete final design in 2017 and begin construction in 2018.
The DOT “is committed to further enhancing the safety of the corridor, working with the community to make the roadway fit into the historic park it traverses, and expediting the project so that construction can get underway,” Driscoll said.
When the project is complete, the Scajaquada will likely be downsized into a low-speed, urban boulevard with two lanes in each direction. The roadway will be in keeping with the aesthetic of Delaware Park and will provide accommodation for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, he said.
Two travel lanes in each direction could include a landscaped median, he said. But the final look of Scajaquada Boulevard will depend on public input this year, Driscoll said. Another public meeting is scheduled for May and he encouraged public comment.
The plans were cheered by many in the audience, while several people jeered the announcement, saying a slower Scajaquada would extend their commuting time.
Justin Booth, executive director of GOBike Buffalo and a member of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition, said he was pleased with the announcements.
“I am thrilled that the Department of Transportation has gotten to the point where they’re willing to work with the community to design a 30 mph boulevard through Delaware Park,” Booth said after the meeting. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Others noted that the expressway bisects a historic park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.
“The highway was put through this beautiful park,” Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, told the crowd. “I want to applaud what’s happening here tonight. It sounds like there’s a lot of good movement.”
Assemblyman Sean Ryan said the changes will lead to calmer traffic on the corridor and improve quality of life for nearby residents. “Buffalo will have a parkway that fits the character of the city,” he said at the outset of the meeting.
The DOT is also discussing with the City of Buffalo the possibility of a separate project to improve safety at the intersection of Main Street, Kensington Avenue and Humboldt Parkway, Driscoll said.
Changes to the Scajaquada have been under consideration for about 15 years.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo ordered the DOT to reduce the speed limit on the Scajaquada from 50 mph to 30 mph on May 31, one day after a 3-year-old boy was killed when a car jumped the curb and struck him in Delaware Park. Other short-term measures implemented last year included a narrowing of traffic lanes, crosshatching on wide areas of the shoulders, replacing yield signs with stop signs at ramps and installation of ironwood guiderail along sections of the corridor.
Cuomo this week directed the DOT to commit funding to expedite the project to transform the corridor, according to a DOT news release.