Schumer Calls on DOT to Fast Track Demolition of Southern Portion of Robert Moses Parkway

December 12, 2011 Updated Dec 12, 2011 at 2:41 PM EDT

By WKBW News

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Schumer Calls on DOT to Fast Track Demolition of Southern Portion of Robert Moses Parkway

December 12, 2011 Updated Dec 12, 2011 at 2:41 PM EDT

(WKBW release) New York Senator Charles E. Schumer on Monday called on the federal Department of Transportation to fast-track the demolition of the Southern portion of Robert Moses Parkway.

Schumer announced his support for the effort to remove the southern portion of the Parkway, creating pedestrian access between the City’s downtown and the waterfront park, and sparking economic growth in downtown Niagara Falls.

The 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 is urging Transportation Secretary LaHood to make the Robert Moses Parkway demolition a “fast-track” project.

The designation would speed up the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of the State’s design for the Parkway, which should be submitted for review shortly. Designating the Parkway as a Fast Track project would help ensure that inter-governmental disputes and typical bureaucratic red tape don’t add additional delays to a process that has already taken far too long.

“For years, this project that would help transform downtown Niagara Falls has been stuck in the mud,” said Schumer. “Enough is enough; we must tear down this road. We’re finally nearing the end of the design phase, but more bureaucratic traps lie ahead. This is no ordinary project, and we can’t go about it in a business-as-usual way. When the federal DOT gets this design shortly, they need to fast track this problem so we can get it to the finish line as quickly as possible. Lowering the Parkway would connect downtown with the majestic views of the waterfront park, pumping new life into Niagara Falls. We absolutely have to get 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.

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. State Park and Transportation officials are nearing the end of this review, and expect to submit an initial design to the Federal Highway Administration for approval soon. Before bidding and construction can begin 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. These design review and permit approval phases could slow down the project down even further, adding months or years to a project that is already overdue.

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. Helping this project avoid bureaucratic red tape and pitfalls would accelerate the economic development of Niagara Falls and provide a boost to local businesses.

“The trail of red tape has to end,” continued Schumer. “We’re going to put the full court press on to finally knock down this barrier that’s standing in the way of Niagara Falls’ growth.”