Funding for converting the Scajaquada Expressway into a boulevard, returning cars to more blocks of Main Street in downtown Buffalo and fighting poverty are highlights for Buffalo in the newly adopted $156 billion state budget.
The budget includes $30 million to transform the current Scajaquada Expressway into a low-speed urban boulevard between Parkside and Delaware avenues, according to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office.
The $30 million was originally earmarked by Cuomo in his proposed budget, and is in addition to funds already set aside by the state Department of Transportation, which estimates the total cost of the project at around $100 million.
“It’s very exciting and it’s a public manifestation of the governor’s commitment to this project,” said Assemblyman Sean Ryan, a Buffalo Democrat.
Matthew J. Driscoll, commissioner of the state DOT, in February 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.
He 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 process is rolling along rapidly,” Ryan said.
Cars on Main Street
The budget also includes $18.3 million for the next phase of the project to return cars to Main Street “to stimulate economic development and improve quality of life in downtown Buffalo,” according to the governor’s news release.
Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown had gone to Albany earlier this year and requested $30 million for a new round of funding for the project that is reopening Main Street downtown to vehicular traffic. He asked lawmakers to fund construction expenses for the 400 block of Main and the Seneca One Tower block.
“It’s very important to keep the next segment of that project going,” Ryan said. “Mayor Brown outlined that project as his No. 1 city priority. So it was all hands on deck from the Senate to the Assembly recognizing the importance of that project. It’s very satisfying to see that we’re going to get that funded.”
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a Buffalo Democrat whose district also includes Main Street downtown, said the project has been key to revitalizing that area.
“A huge part of Buffalo’s resurgence is getting downtown Buffalo alive again, and part of getting it alive is allowing people to drive their cars there,” she said. “I think it’s important for the growth of the city as a whole because when the economy is thriving in the center of the city, it stands a better chance of spreading out.”
Also contained in the budget is $2.75 million for the anti-poverty initiative in Buffalo through the Empire State Poverty Reduction Initiative.
“This will bring together state and local government, nonprofit and community groups to design and implement coordinated solutions to address poverty,” the Governor’s Office stated. “Under the program, New York will provide planning and implementation grants, along with additional funding to address the most pressing issues identified during the planning process. The cities selected for the program were chosen based on concentration of poverty within the municipality.”
The initiative also includes $1.5 million for Niagara Falls and $1 million for Jamestown.
It’s part of an initiative that started last year in Rochester, Ryan said. “Rochester was the first city to have a poverty pilot program and they’ve been doing a lot of work there,” he said.
Peoples-Stokes said she and other lawmakers were invited to Rochester this week by Assembly Majority Leader Joseph D. Morelle, D-Irondequoit, “to review the state’s anti-poverty initiative they’re doing there and see what pieces of that will be useful in Buffalo and see how we can move forward.”
Ryan said legislators are hoping Rochester can be used as a model. “It’s part of a recognition that poverty in New York State is widespread,” he said.