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With Skyway plans stalled, new ideas are on the table to improve access to waterfront

Pedestrian Suspension Bridge across the Buffalo River
Posted at 4:25 PM, Feb 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-17 17:46:40-05

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — New ideas are on the table to improve access to Buffalo's waterfront without tearing down the Buffalo Skyway.

The shift in focus is a result of the lack of consensus among Western New Yorkers about what to do with the Skyway. The New York State Department of Transportation shelved its environmental review, and Governor Kathy Hochul has redirected her attention to the Kensington Expressway.

"The New York State Department of Transportation paused the environmental review process for the Buffalo Skyway in 2021 after a consensus failed to emerge on how to proceed," said DOT spokesperson Susan Surdej. "In the meantime, we have directed significant resources to projects such as the Kensington Expressway, intended to address community needs for connectivity and accommodate all modes of transportation."

But not all hope is lost for those who hope to see a day when the Outer Harbor is easily accessible from Canalside, or when a bike ride to the waterfront is a more pleasant experience.

Tim Tielman, Executive Director of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo, is proposing an 800-foot pedestrian suspension bridge that would connect Canalside to the Outer Harbor for pedestrians and bicyclists. He's working with a company called Experiential Resources, which is behind the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in America, located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

"We thought, boy, that would be a great design for the problem of getting from one side of the Buffalo River to the other cheaply," said Tielman.

Pedestrian Suspension Bridge across the Buffalo River

Tielman estimates the bridge structure would cost one million dollars to build, plus the costs to create structures for people to get on and off the bridge.

Comparatively, the DOT puts the cost of tearing down the Skyway at around $600 million.

"You have an economic tool, you have a health tool, you have a tourist attraction tool, it's just fantastic to think about the potential of this. And I think if we build one of these at the foot of main street across the river, it can be a model for this type of bridge nationally," said Tielman.

Pedestrian Bridge Connecting Terminal

Todd Domeck, owner of Experiential Resources, says his team could build the suspension bridge in about a year.

Domeck believes the advantages of having a pedestrian suspension bridge would have multiple advantages.

"They're safe. They're utilitarian. It's an economical choice to transport people, and like all bridges, inherently they bring people together. To bring people together on a beautiful structure is what we want to do," said Domeck.

Separately, Rep. Brian Higgins is working on his own plans to improve access to Buffalo's waterfront. The democratic congressman has a $189 million plan that includes fixing up and beautifying Louisiana Street and Tifft Street, complete with tree-lined pedestrian/bicycle lanes or sidewalks and new lighting, similar to what currently exists on Ohio Street.

Higgins also wants to use information learned in the Skyway Scoping Report, including replacing the Louisiana Street bridge and implementing synchronized signaling on inland routes to reduce travel times by as much as 30 percent. He hopes this can be paid for with federal infrastructure funding and state money from a relicensing settlement agreement with New York Power Authority.