(WKBW release) New York Senator Charles E. Schumer revealed Monday that the New York State Parks Department has confirmed that they will release a new plan this June to fully remove the Southern portion of the Robert Moses Parkway and replace it with an at-grade road that will provide new waterfront access for downtown Niagara Falls.
According to a news release from Schumer's office:
Schumer called on the federal Department of Transportation (DOT) to fast-track this project in December 2011 and since then has been working with NYS Parks and local leaders to expedite the submission of the plan, which had been mired in bureaucratic red tape for six years. Local stakeholders have been pushing for a full removal of the southern portion of the Parkway as a critical economic development project for Niagara Falls, creating pedestrian access between the City’s downtown and the waterfront park, and encouraging new private investment in downtown Niagara Falls. New York State Parks plans to make the initial design for the project available during a public meeting in early June, which will entail the removal of the elevated bern that is part of the Parkway and currently acts as a barrier to revitalization in downtown Niagara Falls.
With the project design now set to be submitted in early June, Schumer is urging the DOT and Transportation Secretary Lahood to make the Robert Moses Parkway demolition a “fast-track” project. DOT recently created a “Transportation Rapid Response Team” that helps to improve coordination between governmental agencies and speed up permitting and design processes for job-creating transportation infrastructure projects. Given the multi-year delays and lack of coordination at all levels of government that have kept the demolition project from moving forward, Schumer believes that this designation would speed up the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the State’s design for the Parkway once submitted in June.
“All parties are finally on board with this transformative plan for downtown Niagara Falls, and it’s time to designate the demolition of the Robert Moses Parkway as a Fast Track project, so that new investment in the waterfront is no longer stuck in the mud,” said Schumer. “After years of delays in this locally favored plan to fully demolish a portion of the Robert Moses Parkway, the New York State Parks Department is on board and will submit project designs to the Department of Transportation in the coming months. We must make up for lost time and get this project to the finish line as quickly as possible, so that this barrier to revitalization in Niagara Falls can be removed. Lowering the Parkway would connect downtown with the majestic views of the waterfront park, pumping new life into Niagara Falls. This is great news and clears a major hurdle to getting this done.”
Built over 50 years ago, the Robert Moses Parkway today stands as a barrier that blocks access from downtown to the Niagara Falls State Park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead. For years, local officials have pushed to demolish the parkway from the John Daly Boulevard interchange to Main Street and create pedestrian access that would link the waterfront with downtown Niagara Falls. While the city draws approximately 8 million tourists a year, the design of the Parkway prevents the city from taking full advantage of its proximity to the waterfront. Lowering the parkway would open nearly 40 acres of land in City neighborhoods to the waterfront. This land includes dozens of households, commercial properties, and vacant properties waiting to be developed. Schumer said creating the waterfront link should boost housing values, provide a shot in the arm for existing businesses, and attract new businesses to Niagara Falls, helping to fill in vacant properties. Specifically, the 2009 City of Niagara Falls Master Plan found that removing barriers could generate increases in the hundreds of new hotel rooms, massive investments in new retail space, and tens of millions of dollars in new spending activity in the community. The Plan also found that the project could increase property values in surrounding neighborhoods by the millions of dollars.
Today’s news that the New York State Parks Department will submit a new plan for the full removal of the Southern portion of the Parkway in June clears a major hurdle in moving this project forward. For the past five years, the project has been in a scoping phase in which local leaders and community members have presented options for the redesign of the new Parkway, and discussed how to complete the project in a way that boosts the downtown economy. Once NYS Parks submits an initial design to the Federal Highway Administration for approval, the Federal Highway Administration must work with a host of other federal agencies to review the initial design, and make changes and adjustments to produce a final design, before bidding and construction can begin.
The state has committed $5 million for the final project through the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program. The project will also be eligible for federal transportation funding to cover the remaining expenses of construction, after the Federal Highways Administration has completed its review and approved the final design. In an effort to ensure that the project does not experience delays during the design review phase, Schumer is pushing to have the federal DOT fast-track the project. The federal government will play a significant role in the Parkway removal process from the conclusion of the scoping until construction is complete. Designs and construction plans require a full review to ensure that they comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal laws. The Federal Highways Administration will obligate construction funding and is tasked with reimbursements for construction work. Given that the Project is currently using Federal transportation funds, the FHWA has and would continue to have the overall authority and responsibility for implementing and monitoring compliance with Federal laws, regulations and executive orders.
In October, the federal Department of Transportation announced the creation of a transportation rapid response team designed to “fast-track” job-creating transportation infrastructure projects. The team consists of senior staff from 10 federal agencies with jurisdiction over various parts of construction projects including the Council on Environmental Quality, DOT, Office of Management and Budget, National Economic Council, Department of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Commerce, and Homeland Security. When a project, like the Tappan Zee Bridge in the Hudson Valley, is designated for the “fast-track,” the team takes a series of steps to ensure that the project is completed without unnecessary delays. The team prioritizes the review of project designs, permit approvals, and other consultations and interactions with federal agencies. When a project runs into a bureaucratic wall, the problem is raised to senior decision makers within the agencies in order to quickly resolve disputes and solve problems. The team also focuses on ensuring continued communication between governmental agencies to ensure that projects aren’t delayed by agencies failing to work well together.
Given the importance of the project to the revitalization of Niagara Falls’ downtown and the long delays that have already held up this project, Schumer believes the removal of the Parkway should be placed on the federal government’s fast-track list after the New York State Parks Department submits its initial design plans in June. Helping this project avoid bureaucratic red tape and pitfalls would accelerate the economic development of Niagara Falls and provide a boost to local businesses.