The American Jobs Plan, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion infrastructure proposal includes reconnecting neighborhoods cut off by expressways. In Buffalo, advocates hope that means it’s finally time to remove the Scajaquada Expressway.
The Scajaquada Corridor Coalition unveiled renderings Wednesday for what they described as a reimaged corridor. It would include removing the expressway, therefore reconnecting Delaware Park, as well as revitalizing the Scajaquada Creek and restoring Humboldt Parkway.
“We have an opportunity to prioritize the current values and needs of people in our community, and by doing so, we can start to reduce the harmful impact of our urban highways and expressways, including the Scajaquada,” said Justin Booth, vice chair of the coalition and executive director of GoBike.
The Coalition gathered in back of the Buffalo History Museum in Delaware Park for the announcement. It provided the perfect vantage point for everything they say is wrong with the Scajaquada Expressway.
“If you're here at the History Museum and you want to get Buffalo State College, it's right there, you can see it, but there's a highway in the way,” said state Sen. Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo. “You want to go to the Albright Knox Art Museum, you can see it, but you can't really get there because there's a highway in the way.”
As far as Ryan is concerned, the expressway, planned in the late 1950s and opened in 1962, never should have been built. He said it split Delaware Park in half, as well as divided neighborhoods.
The Buffalo-Niagara region was the sixth-most segregated metropolitan area in the nation, according to an analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census.
“So if the community was truly consulted back then, this never would have happened,” Ryan said. “But today we have a chance to fix a historic mistake.”
Fixing historic mistakes, as well as correcting racial inequalities, is part of the Biden infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan. Twenty billion dollars has been earmarked for removing old expressways and reconnecting neighborhoods “cut off by historic investments and ensure new projects increase opportunity, advance racial equity and environmental justice, and promote affordable access.”
Congressman Brian Higgins, who has long advocated for removing the Buffalo Skyway, said it’s possible Congress votes on the infrastructure bill in July and, if passed, funds could start going out in 2022.
“Together, we can work to get the funding for this project,” he said.
The funding would likely be funneled through the New York State Department of Transportation.
The state DOT scrapped a $100 million plan to turn the expressway into a lower-speed boulevard in 2018 after community pushback. It has since turned planning of the Scajaquada project over to the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, but would still have final approval since the expressway is owned by the state.
Higgins, D-Buffalo, is wary of state involvement.
“This is not your project, New York State Department of Transportation. This is our project,” he said, “and if you want to facilitate it, fine. If you don't get out of the way.”
Higgins argued the state already has proof that replacing the expressway with a potential parkway can work. The state lowered the Scajaquada Expressway speed limit from 50 miles an hour to 30 in 2015 after a car veered off the road and killed a 3-year-old boy in Delaware Park.
“By imposing a 30-mile an hour speed limit on an expressway, which was designed to get people out of the city as quickly as possible, [the expressway] is no faster a commuter route than the adjacent side streets,” he said.
The Transportation Council plans to start getting community input next month and have a completed, community-vetted plan by March of next year.
Booth said the Scajaquada Corridor Coalition hopes their proposal can kick start that process.
“We're here presenting the coalition's vision as a starting point for that conversation and encouraging everyone to participate in that process so our community's voices can be heard,” he said.