By Jim Rudnicki
Recently a number of proposals have been made regarding the Outer Harbor. These may have merit but they are all premature. Author Steven Covey suggests that in order to be successful, you must do “first things first.”
In the case of our Outer Harbor, this means changing the infrastructure to meet the new uses envisioned. Infrastructure isn’t sexy, nor is it “lighter, faster, cheaper.”
It’s quite the opposite: infrastructure takes plenty of time planning, costs a ton of money and, perhaps most importantly, is almost impossible to change if you get it wrong. Nitty-gritty things like sewage and water lines and electrical service are needed. Wouldn’t it be great to bury the electrical and get rid of the unsightly utility poles?
How does the current elevated Route 5/Skyway, which was designed to get traffic through the Outer Harbor as fast as possible, mesh with the current idea of the Outer Harbor as a destination?
Way back in 2005, after a long study, the state Department of Transportation made the decision not to address the Skyway question. Even at the beginning of that study, citizens were calling for its removal.
Even though Rep. Brian Higgins has requested yet another study of Skyway alternatives (another two years or so?), we are no closer to answering the question than when the Southtowns Connector Study began. Clearly, the DOT has zero interest in the idea.
Fortunately, the action of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, in recommending an alternate to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.’s plan to spend $5 million on the Outer Harbor, suggests that a group of private citizens can suggest a plan in opposition to a state agency.
Perhaps citizens, government officials and local academia might come up with a reasonable alternative route for the Skyway. This is an absolutely necessary first step as the Skyway currently carries about 40,000 vehicles per day.
Luckily, back in 2005 the DOT recommended a connection between Tifft Street and the Niagara Thruway running along the railroad tracks and spanning the Buffalo River with a regular bridge. This connection was approved but never funded. With one end of this connection still a viable one, what’s left is to tie the new road into Route 5. This can be done just north of Tifft, or further south in Lackawanna.
Once this connection is built we can then move on to planning the low-speed connections to the Outer Harbor, including light rail. An immersed tube tunnel connecting Fuhrmann Boulevard to the old Delaware Avenue landing of the Skyway would be ideal.
All this takes time, money and a great deal of effort to get it right. In the end, it will be worth it.
Jim Rudnicki, of Lake View, is a retired process engineer who commuted through the Outer Harbor for 20 years.