Higgins, Kennedy put the brakes on tearing down the Skyway

HAMBURG, N.Y. (WIVB) — Controversial plans for tearing down Buffalo’s Skyway are now on hold, indefinitely. Congressman Brian Higgins, who has been fighting for the removal made the announcement Monday.

Higgins is still convinced the elevated highway needs to come down and eventually will, but he says without a viable alternative for travel between the Southtowns and downtown Buffalo, removing the aging Skyway will only make the commute worse.

Higgins and fellow Democrat Tim Kennedy have been a constant critic of the Skyway, calling it obsolete, unsafe, and the biggest impediment to waterfront development.

But the two lawmakers are frustrated state transportation officials have not come up with a satisfactory alternative.

“The Skyway being removed is going to wait for another day. Ten to fifteen years down the road we will have plenty of time for community input, ” Kennedy said.

Higgins points to state engineers’ design for a new route through South Buffalo that would produce an elevated highway through Hickory Woods which he said just repeats mistakes of the past. In a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo, he says that for commuters to get to the Southtowns, a new route would require removing the tolls at Hamburg and Blasdell.

“Making the Thruway corridor more attractive as a commuter option for folks originating out of the Southtowns.”

Higgins and Kennedy also met rough going for the Skyway plan from their own party and are turning their attention to less controversial projects such as the reconstruction of the Kensington Expressway.

“The things that will improve everybody’s quality of life and we think that we can get them done, creating a lot of jobs, putting a lot of federal money into other projects,” Higgins said.

Senator Sean Ryan backed both Higgins and Kennedy’s new plans and released the following statement :

“I thank Congressman Higgins and Senator Kennedy for listening to the concerns of many stakeholders and backing away from the Skyway plan. We are at a critical moment for the future of Buffalo and Western New York. With the federal government poised to pass a sweeping infrastructure package in the coming months, and a President who is committed to providing funding to restore communities separated by highways, we must focus our attention on plans to remove the Scajaquada and Kensington Expressways as they currently exist. Restoring Olmsted’s vision will reunite neighborhoods and fix historic injustices. This must be our main focus. As legislators, coming together and putting our full weight behind these projects will be the key to making this vision a reality. We have a unique opportunity to make lasting change that will reshape the future of the City of Buffalo for generations to come.”

This is just fine with Skyway supporters such as Rachele Schneekloth, host of the “Skyway Club” Facebook page.

“The public energy coming out to save it has been overwhelming, and the energy and momentum, it has just been really, really wonderful. We have had bipartisan support to keep our Skyway.”

All of this last-minute maneuvering is about bringing federal infrastructure money to Western New York. Right now, Skyway supporters are set to make a presentation to the Hamburg Town Board, which is already on board for keeping the Skyway.

Al Vaughters is an award-winning investigative reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 1994. See more of his work here.

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