Niagara Gazette

January 20, 2013

CITY DESK: Higgins takes a side on parkway issue

By Mark Scheer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — He didn't mention it during the actual press conference.

It was a question he had to know was coming soon after. 

When it comes to the Robert Moses Parkway, it's one of those things that just comes with the territory.

"Congressman Higgins, what would you say to people in Lewiston and communities north of Niagara Falls who like the parkway just the way it is?"

Up until that point, the Buffalo Democrat whose Congressional district now includes Niagara Falls hadn't mentioned Lewiston or Porter or Youngstown even once while discussing his plan to get $120 million from the New York Power Authority to help with removal efforts along the southern and northern parkway sections. 

This wasn't your typical 'let's compromise' talk. 

This was more in the — with apologies to Higgins — Larry the Cable Guy realm.

In other words: 'Let's get 'er done.'

During his press conference last week, Higgins described the parkway as a "barrier" to economic development in the city. 

He used the term "reclaim" to describe what he believes should be done on the property where the parkway now sits.

He made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that he would like the roadway — at least significant parts of it — removed in favor of a more natural setting, the kind that might make the Upper Niagara River and the Niagara Gorge more accessible to residents and visitors alike.

In response to one reporter, he also was steadfast in his desire to offer this side of the border a true alternative to its Canadian counterpart — one where natural appeal takes precedent over Gorge-front skyscrapers and high-rise hotels. 

In his first public statements since Niagara Falls was added to his Congressional district, Higgins didn't do what so many other politicians had done before him. He didn't attempt to split arguably the most controversial issue in the western end of the county down the middle. 

Instead, refreshingly, he took a side. 

He made it clear that he believes time has passed the Robert Moses Parkway by and that the time has come for the city's more affluent neighbors to the north to get on board with the idea that no road here is better than the road less traveled the community has now. 

"(Robert) Moses built a lot of things and named them for himself," Higgins said. "Some of those things were beneficial and some of those things were ruinous. I would argue that this Robert Moses Parkway is ruinous." 

As for the folks in Lewiston and other northern suburbs, Higgins said their voices would be heard and their positions considered. He suggested they'll need to come to terms with some things, the sort of stuff planners and removal advocates have been saying for years — like the "absurdly overbuilt" parkway separates the county's key economic driver — the city of Niagara Falls — from its most precious resource — its waterfront. 

In making his announcement, Higgins also offered a possible answer to the question so often asked by pro-parkway people — 'where will the money come from to rip out a four-lane highway? 

As Higgins said, $120 million would go a long way to undoing quite a bit of what Moses did. And what better source of revenue than the power authority, which has the surplus cash and, as Higgins pointed out, was instrumental in helping Moses put it there in the first place. 

And what about all those motorists, the ones who have come to value the parkway for its quick ride by the gorge and around the, er, less-than-desirable sections of the city? 

Higgins suggested there just aren't enough of them to justify maintaing the status quo. 

"I think based on the traffic count you really have to look at this realistically," Higgins said. "If there were no other alternative routes to and from Lewiston that would be one thing, but there are. This is clearly underutilized."

Higgins, of course, is fighting a similar battle in Buffalo where he is attempting to convince officials at all levels to find the funds necessary to tear down the Skyway — another stretch of road that he believes has cut a key Western New York community off from a waterfront it desperately needs to flourish and grow. 

"We're either going to invest in the past or invest in the future and the same holds true here with the Robert Moses Parkway," Higgins said. 

   

Standing corrected

I've been around here since 1999 and it seems like by now nothing pre-dates me anymore.

However, in my column last week, I mistakenly suggested that former Niagara County Industrial Development Agency Chairman Henry Sloma never held elected office. 

Not true. I apologize for the oversight. 

Sloma served as a councilman in Lewiston, having been elected to the town board in 1973. 

He pointed out that during his tenure as a councilman, he put forth the initiative to create the Fire Advisory Board which propagated a fire code for the town. He also noted that there's a plaque on the wall in the town hall recognizing his accomplishments. 

"Since that time I have served my community in a variety ways and I will continue to do so into the future," said Sloma in an email. 

Sloma also noted in an email that while he may be done with the NCIDA board, Niagara County hasn't seen the last of him. 

"I'm not done," he wrote. "I'm just getting my second wind."

Contact City Editor Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250.