By Michael P. Kearns
The recently announced competition to remove the Skyway is reminiscent of Lucy holding the football for an innocent Charlie Brown. In Buffalo we know too well the anxiety that comes with a field goal attempt.
We also know it’s never too late to do the right thing. For years local officials, including me, led this important discussion. The opinions are virtually unanimous. The Skyway remains a colossal planning mistake bestowed by Robert Moses and should be removed from our waterfront. The solution to this mistake is community-driven planning and action. Skyway removal should be acted on now.
As a councilman, along with fellow members David Franczyk and Richard Fontana, I visited Milwaukee upon the invitation of John Norquist, then president of the Congress of New Urbanism. We toured their waterfront and observed the successful results of the removal of an elevated structure.
The benefits of careful and forward thinking infrastructure planning were manifest. The once dead zone instantaneously transformed into develop-worthy land and created an enormous opportunity for additional tax revenue.
Meanwhile back in Buffalo, the preferred alternative by NYSDOT was to demolish Route 5, then rebuild or add to it. Regrettably, this was subtraction by addition. These improvements extended the life span of Route 5. By reinforcing Route 5 and the Skyway, the state barricaded Western New York from sensible waterfront development.
NYSDOT’s main concern is road maintenance, not demolition and removal. When restricted to the hammer’s mindset, all problems look like a nail. Opposing this dysfunction, I became a plaintiff in a lawsuit against NYSDOT’s proposal. An Urban Freeways Summit a few years back in Albany set a goal for several cities, including Buffalo, “to replace a highway that currently divides a community with a roadway that reconnects neighborhoods and helps bring vitality to the area.”
We are on course to needlessly continue debating what to do with Buffalo’s Outer Harbor into the foreseeable future, but the best plan is to remove this monstrosity.
Although Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo acted to take down elevated highways elsewhere in the state (see Syracuse), his talk in Buffalo is plentiful but rational actions remain a precious few. The NYSDOT agreed to allocate another $30 million, amounting to another missed opportunity at the optimal solution our community deserves.
Whatever plan you support for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor, the choice remains clear – the removal of the Skyway bridge increases public access to the water, increases tax revenue and development. We cannot afford another “wide right” on our waterfront.
Michael P. Kearns is the Erie County clerk.