Niagara Gazette

February 7, 2013

ON THE PARKWAY: State parks delays trouble both sides of debate

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

NIAGARA FALLS — Get former Lewiston Mayor Richard Soluri and citizen activist Bob Baxter in the same room together and there’s little they agree upon. But New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation managed to unify them in one sentiment.

Both are disappointed in delays of the release of information surrounding the Robert Moses Parkway north section scoping process, which the Albany office has yet to finalize. Both want to finally have some direction from the decision makers. Both expected action in January but were left wanting.

“We’ve now waited over a year and a half to learn which options have been selected, and (state parks has) failed to perform this simple task,” Baxter, a founding member of the pro-removal Niagara Heritage Partnership, said. “If they are paralyzed into inactivity because they realize that after all their contorted efforts, total gorge parkway removal is the clear and obvious choice, then the Niagara Heritage Partnership will be happy to announce for them. Just give us the word.”

“Yes we’re disappointed,” Soluri, of the pro-retention Parkway Preservation Commission, said. “We built up to this process last November. Then they said they’d release the the information to the press in January. Either keep the parkway open or close it. If you keep it open, then determine which option. But we’re disappointed.”

The scoping process dates back to 2005, when officials from state parks, the state Department of Transportation, the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp. and the city of Niagara Falls agreed to open up the dialogue with residents in an effort to develop possible alternatives to the existing parkway.

An initial study created six alternatives, including:

• Alternative 1, which calls for the complete restoration of all four lanes of traffic for the entire parkway.

• Alternative 2, which calls for the completion of the parkway’s pilot program to reduce from four to two lanes — closing the southbound lanes —throughout the Lewiston and Youngstown stretches of the parkway and reducing the speed limit.

• Alternative 3, which calls for the parkway to be removed between Main Street and Findlay Drive and creation of two-lane traffic from the city through to Center Street in Lewiston, while keeping the rest of the parkway the way it currently exists as four-lane traffic from Lewiston to termination in Porter. It also calls for the removal of the Whirlpool Bridge overpass.

• Alternative 4, which calls for removal between Main Street and Findlay Drive, including the Whirlpool Bridge overpass, while eliminating the parkway at the New York Power Authority, accomplished by merging traffic with Lewiston Road through roundabouts both at Whirlpool State Park and the bridge crossing.

• Alternative 5, which also eliminates traffic by the Power Authority, closes the parkway between Findlay Drive and Main Street — including the bridge overpass — and creates two lanes of traffic through Whirlpool State Park. From the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, traffic would take Lewiston Road to Center Street, while a road would provide escarpment access with no thru-traffic.

• Alternative 6, which eliminates the parkway completely between Main Street and Center Street in Lewiston, with limited park access to Whirlpool State Park from Findlay Drive. The parkway would remain open from Lewiston to Porter.

Parkway removal advocates have long pushed for elimination of the roadway from the Falls to Lewiston. Soluri and other supporters of maintaining the parkway have endorsed options calling for the Main St. to Findlay Drive section is removed. Dan Davis, a member of Citizens for Waterfront Action, also believes one of the compromise options would be the best choice.

Davis believes economic opportunity and impact is the driving force behind the decision state parks should be making.

“I keep complaining about the scoping process ... because (removing) Main to Findlay Drive was part of 2009 application for federal funding,” he said via email. “Parkway removal and reconnection to the city’s waterfront is one of the main goals of the city’s comprehensive plan and is the part of the parkway we should all be concerned with.”

Meanwhile, funding whichever option is selected could come down to the efforts of Congressman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. Last month, Higgins called for the power authority to finance the removal of portions of the parkway’s north and south sections and announced he’d seek upwards of $120 million from the authority to do so.

State parks declined comment for this story.