Congressman Brian Higgins is asking the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) to put the brakes on long-term maintenance of the Buffalo Skyway while alternatives are reviewed. Specifically, Higgins is requesting the DOT refrain from including expensive Skyway rehab on the State’s Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) projects list.
“Spending more than $100 million to rebuild the Buffalo Skyway over the next twenty years would be a transportation and land-use policy disaster,” writes Congressman Higgins in a letter to NYSDOT Commissioner McDonald. “It will cost far more to perpetuate an unsafe, functionally obsolete design which stifles Buffalo’s potential as a great waterfront city than it will to build better, more efficient infrastructure.”
According to the DOT’s own 2008 Skyway Management Study, the cost of maintaining the structure for another fifty years is expected to reach approximately $117 million. “To invest several tens of millions of dollars to keep it up is to perpetuate failure,” added Higgins.
Higgins argues the Skyway is a barrier to waterfront development and private sector investment in the region. The four mile long route sits on prime property at Canalside and along 27.5 acres along Buffalo’s Outer Harbor.
According to bridge data released by the NYSDOT last month, the Buffalo Skyway is found to be “functionally obsolete” under federal highway standards, due to its lack of shoulders, a feature which frequently causes the highway to shut-down completely when accidents occur. In addition, the Skyway’s condition rating is 4.85, which places the structure in the “deficient bridge” category according to the State’s own standards. Furthermore, it is listed by the U.S. Department of Transportation as “fracture critical,” which means failure of any one of a number of structural elements would lead to a catastrophic failure.
While Skyway removal and alternatives have been discussed in the past, Higgins believes the State today has a better understanding of the economic needs of Buffalo and Western New York, as evidenced by Albany’s hands-on approach to other infrastructure projects like the Peace Bridge and Ohio Street, and will thoughtfully weigh the cost-benefit ratio of such a project.
Higgins points out progress underway or recently completed supports routes which could help to carry the north-south traffic which currently utilizes the Skyway. “With construction of a new Outer Harbor Parkway at Fuhrmann Boulevard complete, construction of a new river front Parkway at Ohio Street in the works and planning for the Buffalo Harbor Bridge well underway we are already positioning this community for the eventual removal of the Skyway,” said Higgins. “The decision is ours: do we take advantage of the groundwork we have laid and steer scarce transportation dollars to projects that meet Buffalo’s transportation needs today and tomorrow or do we pay to maintain an obsolete super structure and as a result pay the price in terms of lost economic opportunity.”