Cuomo on Skyway: Only a lack of federal funds could stall project

Sep 20, 2019

Days after a design competition picked a plan that will ultimately tear down most of Buffalo's Skyway and create an elevated walkway attraction at Canalside, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tells WBFO that the only thing that might kill the project is perhaps President Donald Trump saying no to federal funding.

Credit NYS Photo

Cuomo announced a Rochester design team's "City of Lights" proposal as the $100,000 winner of the Skyway redesign contest Tuesday. The plan would remove the Skyway from Church Street to Prime Street,  yet preserve a portion of it as an overhead pedestrian walkway.

Democrats Cuomo and Rep. Brian Higgins say the project will receive up to $600 million in state and federal resources. Such projects require a 2o% match in state funds, which Cuomo has committed to, but federal money would have to be allocated by Congress..

"The negative is, if we don't get the funding, that could derail it," Cuomo said late Thursday in an interview with WBFO. "The infrastructure bill has not passed the federal government, that is true, but that's not to say the federal government doesn't fund infrastructure projects. This state does more infrastructure projects than many other states."

"I don't think this is going to rise to the president's level and I have disagreed with the president on a number of issues. I'd like to say this is a pure policy decision and politics don't apply, but when it comes to this president, he might apply politics," Cuomo laughed before adding, "but I don't think this is at his level."

Nor does Cuomo believe that an environmental review of the  project could shut it down. He said the process will certainly dictate the scope of the project and determine how many other improvements are done to roads that would replace the Skyway.

As for fears of a longer commute?

"Fears can be logical or fears can be emotional. Logical fears you can address. Illogical, emotional fears you can't address," he said. "The environmental review will have a traffic study that will identify routes for commuters who took the Skyway. That is a logical concern."

Under the proposed design, traffic would be redistributed over a series of new roads, including a new Michigan Avenue lift bridge - a connection between Ohio Street and Fuhrmann Boulevard - and what the proposal calls "a new Tifft Street Extension road connecting to I-190." The exact nature of those projects - and the traffic loads on them - would be fleshed out by an environmental impact statement and a traffic study.

On Tuesday, when the award-winning design was first unveiled, Cuomo said the study of feeder roadways and an assessment of what upgrade projects are needed would take approximately six years. He is optimistic that it could move sooner, saying Thursday that the shortest amount of time such a large project has ever taken is only two years.

Credit NYS Photo

Buffalo has long considered removing the 1950s-era Skyway because it hinders access to Lake Erie and the Buffalo River. Cuomo said doing so will free up acres for development and vastly increase public access to the waterfornt.

The design competition announced by Cuomo in February challenged teams to reimagine a four-mile corridor between downtown and the city of Lackawanna that handles 40,000 vehicle trips daily. The winning proposal was submitted by SWBR, Fisher Associates and MRB Group.