During his latest visit to Western New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke again of economic development and accomplishments. This time, he spoke of finding a design to replace the Skyway. And he announced that New York State is offering $100,000 to the winning entry in a forthcoming design competition.
During his appearance at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga Thursday afternoon, Cuomo stated that the money will be put in the state budget, due for passage by April 1, to fund the competition.
"Let's have a national competition for designers," he said. "Give us the best idea for an alternative to the Skyway. The state will offer a $100,000 prize for the best design. Let's get the best design firms, best architects, best urban planners to come in and say 'today, for the new Buffalo, for a connected Buffalo, for a Buffalo accessing the water and that attraction, this is what we should do as an alternative.'"
Water redevelopment has been among Cuomo's celebrated achievements, through Buffalo Billion funding and a plan overseen by Empire State Development which includes Canalside. State Senator Tim Kennedy, whose district includes the north end of the Skyway, now chairs the Senate's Transportation Committee. He's also among lawmakers who say the Skyway's time has passed and it needs to be replaced.
"This is something that's going to be tangible," he said. "This is something that we can all relate to. We all know what it means, especially last week when inclement weather sweeped in to our community and that Skyway was closed. That happens all too often. And the debris that's falling off the Skyway. And the incredible amount of money that has to be infused, the millions of dollars that have to go into maintaining the Skyway."
Congressman Brian Higgins did not appear at Cuomo's announcement but has been a strong supporter of replacing the Skyway for many years. As far back as 2012, he suggested that continuing to spend millions of dollars on the Skyway would "perpetuate failure."
"Currently, Buffalo has no alternative to the Skyway other than to continue to invest tens of million sof dollars into a bridge that will have outlived its useful life within the next decade," Higgins said. "That's according to State (Department of Transportation)."
The Skyway was partially closed for a portion of 2018 as construction crews rehabilitated the inbound lanes of the highway. It created significant traffic backups and irritation for those who rely on Route 5 to travel to and from destinations including Lackawanna and Hamburg. Mayor Byron Brown pointed out that the second phase of rehabilitation will resume later this year, and along with it commuters' headaches.
He says it's the right time to consider its replacement.
"I think the governor and members of the State Legislature are saying to our residents in Western New York, particularly Southtowns residents, that they shouldn't have to go through that," Brown said. "The Skyway has been in a state of some disrepair for quite some time. Literally tens of millions of dollars to repair it the right way. We're seeing more and more times when the Skyway has to be closed due to weather."
Among those welcoming the prospect of replacing the Skyway is Jonathan Dandes, president of Rich Baseball Operations. He is also president of Outer Harbor Management Group and B. R. Guest Ltd., subsidiaries of Rich Entertainment Group, which oversee parks and amenities on Buffalo's Outer Harbor. Replacing the Skyway, as he sees it, creates an opportunity to greatly improve access to the Outer Harbor's offerings.
"I have said for a long, long time now that the Outer Harbor may be the most gorgeous piece of geography in Western New York," Dandes said. "The ability for our citizens to get out there has been an issue because of the Skyway."
As for a timeline for the competition?
"I think if we have about six months notice for people to come up with the best idea, put together a panel, let the community weigh in," Cuomo said. "Let's have a demonstration of the different ideas. Let people present different ideas. Let's have that dialogue about what we want that community to be. Pick a winner, then we need a design and then we go."
And then there's the question about how to pay for it.
"This project will require 80 percent federal funding and 20 percent state funding," Higgins said. "But obviously, the governor coming out and explicitly stating that we need to think big about replacing the Skyway is a big statement about viability for a Skyway replacement.
"We currently have a Skyway that takes people up and away from the waterfront. We want an alternative that will take people into the waterfront and into downtown Buffalo."
WBFO's Mike Desmond contributed to this report.