The decision Monday by the New York State Department of Transportation to suspend its Scajaquada Corridor redesign project, in its most recent form, was welcomed by community stakeholders who hope the next draft will be one that satisfies their desires for the roadway and affected nearby lands.
In a written statement issued Monday, the DOT recognized that a majority of the feedback received from the public showed most were opposed to the design under consideration.
"After an extensive effort to create a plan that transforms the Scajaquada Corridor, unfortunately, a consensus could not be reached with the many stakeholders involved," the statement by NYSDOT Region 5 Director Frank Cirillo reads. "More than two-thirds of the most recent public comments received by NYSDOT were not in favor of the proposed Scajaquada Corridor project moving forward As a result, NYSDOT will rescind work on the Environmental Impact Statement and not move forward with the project in its current form.
"NYSDOT has implemented a number of measures to improve safety on the Scajaquada Corridor since the tragic accident that took place in 2015. These measures include but are not limited to: reducing the speed limit, adding speed limit and stop signs, radar speed trailers, and new guiderails; and removing acceleration, deceleration and weaving lanes. We will continue to engage the community and make safety improvements as necessary.
"In the coming months, we will hit the 'reset' button and begin a fresh dialogue with stakeholders."
Among those welcoming the decision was Stephanie Crockatt, executive director of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, who told WBFO this creates the opportunity to develop a more comprehensive plan using the additional existing feedback.
"Really, this is going to take the project and look at it from an urban planning standpoint instead of just a traffic engineering standpoint," she said. "We believe this could be done very expeditiously and the state could see a better road. Buffalo could see a better road and the community could be experiencing a road in a restored park very soon."
Reconnecting portions of Delaware Park now divided by Route 198 is among the top priorities of community stakeholders who, last year, introduced an alternative design that creates more pedestrian and bicycle access while allowing automobile traffic to continue.
State Assemblyman Sean Ryan likes the idea of reconnecting the park and hopes a future design will also address other neighborhoods including Main Street near Canisius College and Martin Luther King Park, where he says some neighborhoods have been similarly severed by the Kensington Expressway.
"They were once connected by beautiful parkways," Ryan said. "We want to put Buffalo back together again. We want the new Buffalo. We really can't do it when we have divided highways running through our communities."
Ryan says state funding is dedicated to the project over the next several years and should not be affected by the state's anticipated multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
As for when the project may be completed, New York State has no deadline. Crockatt was hopeful a new plan could be in place by 2020 but Justin Booth, executive director of GoBike Buffalo and a member of the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition, is willing to spend whatever time is necessary to create "the right plan."
"By engaging the community in a process that they feel empowered, that their thoughts and input is taken seriously, is something that's been missing and something we'd all like to see going forward," Booth said.