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State drops contested plan to convert Scajaquada into lower-speed boulevard

The state has put the brakes on a $101 million plan to convert the Scajaquada Expressway into a lower-speed boulevard after receiving public comments that were overwhelmingly in opposition.

The decision by the state Department of Transportation comes at the end of a long design process to reshape 2.2 miles of Route 198 between Parkside Avenue and Grant Street, which has been slowed to a 30 mph roadway. The state had been expected to announce later this year the start of a project to design additional traffic-calming measures, such as doubling the number of traffic signals, adding pedestrian crossings and installing wide medians at those crossings.

Among the opponents' concerns: losing the chance to reconnect the two parts of Delaware Park across Delaware Avenue by returning the Stone Arch Bridge to pedestrian use; extending the plan east to Main Street or farther, to Route 33;  and the plan's impact on the Scajaquada Creek watershed.

“After an extensive effort to create a plan that transforms the Scajaquada Corridor, unfortunately, a consensus could not be reached with the many stakeholders involved," said DOT Region 5 Director Frank Cirillo in a statement. "More than two-thirds of the most recent public comments received by NYSDOT were not in favor of the proposed Scajaquada Corridor project moving forward."

"As a result, NYSDOT will rescind work on the Environmental Impact Statement and not move forward with the project in its current form. In the coming months, we will hit the 'reset' button and begin a fresh dialogue with stakeholders,” Cirillo said.

Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, applauded the state's decision. The conservancy collected over 5,500 signatures calling for the state to stop the DOT plan before final approval. In the fall, the state rejected the Conservancy proposal to divert traffic from the Expressway to Delaware Avenue, while closing the Stone Arch Bridge to vehicle traffic. The state said the Delaware Avenue intersection could not handle the traffic.

“Today we can say clearly that the community has been heard," Crockatt said. "Thanks to the effort of so many concerned citizens who worked so hard over these past several months, we now  have an opportunity to restore the jewel of Olmsted's system."

A source told The News that interim traffic-calming stops along the Scajaquada could be taken over the next several months to help address current traffic concerns. The source also said there is nothing punitive about the state's decision to table its plan as it moves toward a solution that it hopes will enjoy greater community support.

Justin Booth of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition, expressed gratitude to the state's willingness to reconsider the public's concerns.

"I'm thankful to the Department of Transportation for listening to the community's vision of restoring Olmsted's legacy in Buffalo," said Booth, who's also executive director of GObike Buffalo. "Our goal is to contribute to improved health, an enhanced environment and a better quality of life, and we hope to work with the state to achieve that in future plans," Booth said.

Assemblyman Sean Ryan, Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes, State Sen. Chris Jacobs and Delaware Council Member Joel Feroleto were among politicians who quickly expressed support for the state's decision.

“I am pleased that the DOT has listened to the community and has stepped back from their current plan," Ryan said. "We need a plan for the redesign of the Scajaquada Expressway that takes a holistic approach to the entire corridor, reconnects neighborhoods and restores Delaware Park. With today’s announcement, these critical aspects can finally be addressed."

Ryan said he expected a task force to be created with community stakeholders and state government representatives from within and outside of the DOT to help point the way forward.

He said the process — which has dragged on, intermittently, since Gov. George E. Pataki was in office — should not have to require years of more study due to the volume of fresh data collected.

Crockatt said there is 15 years of study data that can now be implemented from an urban planning perspective.

"It's our hope that the process can be concluded in 18 to 24 months," she said.

Delaware Council Member Joel Feroleto also expressed support.

"I am pleased the Department of Transportation listened to comments made by residents, and I look forward to continuing to work with everyone on this once-in-a-generation opportunity to return this area to a park-like setting,” he said.

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