The towns of Amherst and Tonawanda now have a roadmap for addressing the future of Niagara Falls Boulevard.
The towns are about five months into an 18-month project to scrutinize the busy retail and residential corridor that forms their shared border.
"The two towns have felt that we need to lead the discussion," said Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa. "We have ultimate control over land use in that area so it's really incumbent upon us to get this plan correct."
Many questions surround the heavily trafficked boulevard. They include:
Will NFTA light rail be extended up the boulevard?
And, what can be done to improve safety along a stretch of the boulevard where six pedestrians have been struck and killed in recent years?
"The boulevard is in need of massive help now," Kulpa said. "We can't necessarily wait to see what'll happen with light rail."
Tonawanda Town Supervisor Joe Emminger agreed that the multitude of issues facing the boulevard requires the towns to act now.
"The towns of Tonawanda and Amherst have collaborated for years on variety of issues," Emminger said. "Perhaps none, however, will be as important as the work we will do together on addressing the traffic and safety issues that have plagued this major highway we both share for years."
At a news conference Wednesday, Kulpa said the project will result in two things: a plan to improve the boulevard's streetscape and pedestrian safety, and a land-use plan so both towns can adopt appropriate zoning.
In the short term, he said, he'd like to see better timing sequences on traffic lights, more landscaped grass and trees along the public right-of-way and better snow removal from sidewalks, so pedestrians aren't forced to walk in the street.
At the Amherst Town Board's meeting Wednesday, the board voted to adopt the project's nine-page charter, which details how the process will play out over the next 12 months, including goals, stakeholders and a general schedule outlining the steps forward. A 10-member steering committee will lead the project.
The cost is estimated at between $400,000 and $500,000, but Kulpa said the towns will be able to use some of their own resources and seek financial assistance from the state.
The Tonawanda Town Board has not yet adopted the project charter.
The state Department of Transportation is studying pedestrian access to the boulevard, a state road.
The towns will be working this summer on a plan to improve street lighting along the stretch of the boulevard north of the I-290 where there have been six fatalities, including a woman struck and killed Saturday.
"It's too bad that we've arrived at this point," Kulpa said. "As an urban planner I look at this and say, 'OK, we have to get this right.' Supervisor Emminger and his board share my board's opinion that we're leading municipalities in New York State and we need to begin the hard work of correcting this scenario."
With many eyes on the boulevard, the goal of the project is to "take all those moving parts and sweep them into one document," Kulpa said.
"This is our effort to say, 'We're going to lead. We're going to get collected on this. We're going to take the future of the boulevard,' " he said.
"This is an important issue," Kulpa said. "It's a life safety issue and it is an economic development issue."
The supervisors said they have support from the state Department of Transportation and state legislators who represent portions of the boulevard.
"We want to assure the residents and business owners of both our communities that the course of action that is finally decided upon will be one that will address all the concerns," Emminger said.