Polluting of the Scajaquada Creek was evident in Buffalo as long ago as the turn of the last century, after the City of Light hosted the 1901 Pan-American Exposition.
Buffalostreets.com, a blog run by Angela Keppel, quoted an Illustrated Express article from 1902, when the authors saw trash floating in the creek that even a garbage-picker would disdain.
“Once it was a picturesque stream, but here its glory is departed,” the article stated. The creek’s channel is “obstructed by peach baskets, bottomless coffee pots, kerosene cans, bed springs, tin cans and other materials which the moucher rejects.”
The further desecration of much of the 13-mile waterway came about after the 1950s, when New York State and the Buffalo Planning Commission decided on highway plans that included construction of the Scajaquada Expressway, which was built in the 1950s and ’60s. The road was wedged along narrow channels of the creek, which has become polluted with gas and oil from cars, among other substances.
Real estate development in other spots along the creek, which runs from Lancaster to Buffalo, set up the waterway for pollution by sewage overflows and storm water runoff, some of it caused by illegal connections of downspouts, storm drains and sump pumps to the sanitary sewer system.
Can this waterway be saved? The head of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, Jill Jedlicka, says yes and it’s never smart to count out the organization that was instrumental in reviving the Buffalo River. Jedlicka and other members of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition are pinning their hopes on a major traffic realignment that includes dismantling the section of the expressway that runs from Elmwood Avenue to Niagara Street.
We will reserve judgment on whether that feat of traffic engineering is feasible or necessary, but bringing Scajaquada Creek back from the dead should not be contingent on it. If federal infrastructure funds can be used to help clean up one of the state’s most polluted waterways, New York should get behind the effort.
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper earned rightful praise for its work in Forest Lawn, where it completed an $8 million project involving the creek’s floodplain and a wetland. Our region is fortunate to have the group’s energy and expertise.
The Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council, working with the state Transportation Department, has been studying the Scajaquada corridor, gathering public input, and in March will issue recommendations with three scenarios for the corridor. Some or all of them will involve rerouting traffic. The transportation council’s executive director, Hal Morse, earlier this year told The News that they would take an impartial, fact-based approach.
The council, acronym GBNRTC, released an in-depth study of traffic and mobility in the corridor area, which it calls Region Central. The “Mobility Experiential Guide,” released in October, relied on varied sources of information, including smartphone location data.
Among the report’s findings was that vehicle volume in the area, on the expressway and other main roads, has since 2016 fallen to its lowest level in two decades. That coincides with the lowering of the speed limit on the Scajaquada from 50 mph to 30 mph, after a 3-year-old boy was killed on Delaware Park’s Ring Road in 2015.
We have noted before that the 30 mph speed limit was an overcorrection that has caused bottlenecks on the expressway. When motorists take alternate routes, increased traffic on other streets creates a headache for residents there.
The Scajaquada Corridor Coalition has influential supporters behind it, including leadership of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, which cites the damage done to Delaware Park when it was split by the expressway. The conservancy would like part of the roadway to pass through a tunnel so that visitors could walk from the park’s meadow to the lake, an improvement on the pedestrian overpass that now links them.
Both the Scajaquada and Kensington expressways caused disruption and dislocation in our city. As we have noted before, trying to undo those decisions made six decades ago may not be the best use of federal aid dollars.
The transportation council’s report in March will be a launching point for further discussion and debate. The traffic questions should not overshadow the need to work on rescuing the creek from its polluted state.
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