U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer pressed the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council (GBNRTC) to prioritize the use of federal highway funding for the final design for the removal of the berm and the Robert Moses Parkway, so that this revitalizing construction project can move forward. Last week, New York State Parks submitted a preliminary project design to the Federal Highway Administration for approval, which is now open for public comment period and input from other federal agencies. Following that phase, funding must be secured in order to develop a final design, before bidding and construction can begin. Since December of 2011, Schumer has worked with federal Department of Transportation to fast-track this project, and has worked with Parks and local leaders to expedite the submission of this design, which had been mired in red tape since 2006. With the initial design submitted, Schumer urged GBNRTC – the Metropolitan Planning Organization for Western New York – to accelerate programing for this project so that the full removal of the southern portion of this Parkway can move forward in development, and create pedestrian access between the Falls’ downtown and the waterfront.

“The time is now for transportation officials in Buffalo and Niagara and other state and federal transportation officials to prioritize funding for the final design of work on the southern portion of the Robert Moses Parkway, so that this revitalizing construction project can move forward,” said Schumer. “It is great news that the plan released last week by the Office of State Parks and Historic Preservation included the removal of the southern section of the Robert Moses Parkway, and now we must secure funding for a final design before construction can begin. Last December, I called for this section of the Robert Moses to be removed because it has long stood in the way of progress and development in Niagara Falls, and I will continue to throw my full support behind this project, and will work to clear any hurdles or bureaucratic red tape between this project and its completion.”

The state has committed $5 million for the final project through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. The project is also eligible for federal transportation funding to cover the remaining expenses of construction, after the Federal Highways Administration has completed its review and approved the final design. The federal government will now play a significant role in the Parkway removal process from the submission of last week’s design until construction is complete. Designs and construction plans require a full review to ensure that they comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal laws. The Federal Highways Administration will obligate construction funding and is tasked with reimbursements for construction work.  Given that the Project is currently using Federal transportation funds, the FHWA has and would continue to have the overall authority and responsibility for implementing and monitoring compliance with Federal laws, regulations and executive orders.  However, the local MPO must program the use of funds for each project on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) list.

A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is, by federal law, designated by the governor of each state for every urban area with at least 50,000 residents. The MPO develops solutions to regional transportation problems and addresses other important issues such as land use, air quality, energy, economic development, commerce and quality of life.

Built over 50 years ago, the Robert Moses Parkway today stands as a barrier that blocks access from downtown to the Niagara Falls State Park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. For years, local officials have pushed to demolish the parkway from the John Daly Boulevard interchange to Main Street and create pedestrian access that would link the waterfront with downtown Niagara Falls. While the city draws approximately 8 million tourists a year, the design of the Parkway prevents the city from taking full advantage of its proximity to the waterfront. Lowering the parkway would open nearly 40 acres of land in City neighborhoods to the waterfront. This land includes dozens of households, commercial properties, and vacant properties waiting to be developed. Schumer said creating the waterfront link should boost housing values, provide a shot in the arm for existing businesses, and attract new businesses to Niagara Falls, helping to fill in vacant properties.  Specifically, the 2009 City of Niagara Falls Master Plan found that removing barriers could generate increases in the hundreds of new hotel rooms, massive investments in new retail space, and tens of millions of dollars in new spending activity in the community.  The Plan also found that the project could increase property values in surrounding neighborhoods by the millions of dollars.

Senator Schumer’s letter appears below:

Dear GBNRTC Executive Director Hal Morse,

I write to request that you accelerate programming of the final design for the removal of the berm and the Robert Moses Parkway between John B. Daly Blvd. and Niagara Falls State Park on the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for the Greater Buffalo-Niagara region.  As you know, in December of 2011, I urged the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and New York State Parks to work together to quickly finalize a long-delayed preliminary design plan for the removal of this section of the parkway. I, along with many colleagues in the local development community of Niagara Falls, were pleased to recently learn that New York State Parks has, after six years of planning, decided on the removal alternative we have been advocating.  It is now high time that this plan be moved as quickly as possible to the next phase of federal highway development. 

The recently released plan for a surface level road, nature trails, public access points and parking areas is a potential economic game-changer for downtown Niagara Falls.  By finally dealing with the poor urban planning choices of the City’s past, we could re-open waterfront access along the Niagara River, which would help to spur both public access and downtown and waterfront development. We now must move quickly to complete final design of this project and then fund its completion.  As you know, this project is federal-aid eligible and is a worthwhile investment of federal highway dollars.  This project embodies the type of smart growth planning and economic development I and my colleagues in Congress have been advocating for in Washington.  Re-connecting the City’s people and businesses with its greatest natural resource is long overdue.  According to the USA Niagara Development Corporation, the RMP South project was included as the “signature” project in USA Niagara’s 2005 Downtown Niagara Falls Multi-Modal Access Program, to re-connect downtown Niagara Falls to the upper Niagara River. 

I will continue my full support of this project and will work to clear any hurdles or bureaucratic red tape to see this project through to completion and I hope that you will join me in this effort.  Again, I urge that you accelerate programming for the final design of this project.

Thank you for your consideration of this request. Feel free to contact me or a member of my staff if you have any additional comments or questions.