The Buffalo Skyway could come down as soon as this year, with Gov. Andrew Cuomo saying New York state is ready to break ground in 2021 and funding potentially available through President Biden’s infrastructure proposal that’s currently being debated in Congress.
Now lawmakers claim there’s an even more urgent reason to remove the Skyway: safety concerns.
Congressman Brian Higgins, standing under the Skyway Thursday morning, argued that it’s a rather unsafe place to be.
“The Skyway is dangerous, it is dated, and it is dirty,” he said during a press conference near where the Skyway runs past KeyBank Center.
Higgins, a longtime advocate of removing the Skyway for better waterfront access, announced he’s filed a notice of hazardous condition with the state Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation, as well as the state Attorney General’s Office.
Higgins, D-Buffalo, said engineers consider the nearly 70-year-old, 100-foot-high bridge “fracture critical,” meaning a failure of any one of its 167 metal pins could result in a catastrophic collapse, and “functionally obsolete,” meaning it could not be built under today’s federal standards.
He also said it poses a danger of falling debris to pedestrians around Canalside, and is a pollutant to the Outer Harbor.
“So it's putting [the state] on notice that there are problems with this,” Higgins said. “They need to know that there are hazardous conditions for both motorists and pedestrians. And if they fail to do something about it, they have exposure relative to liability.”
The state is on board with removing the Skyway. A state report released last August says it expects to make a decision on how to replace the highway this July, while Cuomo said in his January State of the State address that the state is ready to break ground on removing the Skyway before the end of the year.
A proposal to remove most of the Skyway but repurpose a portion of it near Canalside into an elevated park won a state-run contest in 2019. The state website currently says it “considered the concepts from the design competition in establishing a reasonable range of alternatives for the project.”
According to last year’s state report, the total project, including replacing the Skyway with either a new boulevard or highway, is expected to cost about $600 million.
Funding could soon be available through Biden’s nearly $2 trillion infrastructure plan, so the time to act is now, said state Sen. Tim Kennedy, who joined Higgins at the press conference.
“These are transformational generational projects that we will never have an opportunity potentially in our lifetime to do this again, because we may not have another federal infrastructure bill to this level in our lifetime,” said Kennedy, D-Buffalo.
However, the Skyway isn’t without its supporters.
Robert Altman of Amherst interrupted the press conference to voice opposition to removal.
“I will gladly go point by point with you and show you why it should not be removed,” Altman told Higgins and Kennedy.
Speaking with reporters afterward, Altman questioned whether the Skyway truly restricts access to the waterfront.
“This is the easiest way to get to the waterfront,” he said. “There are people going to the waterfront every day. They bicycle all around the Outer Harbor. There are literally hundreds of us every day going over that Ohio Street bridge. So it doesn't seem to bother anybody to take that quote, detour.”
Higgins said there will be an opportunity for public comment once the state completes its environmental study.