Assemblyman Burke: Prioritize Public Transit Over Misguided Skyway Teardown

In 2019, New York State completed a $29 million rehabilitation of the Skyway.[1] Motorists who dealt with congestion on their commute and residents who dealt with congestion in their neighborhoods were relieved construction was finally over.

In 2007, the Southtowns Connector/Fuhrmann Boulevard project cost a reported $55 million. A coalition of civic groups and Common Council members opposed the elevated highway from Tifft Street to the Skyway bridge because it created a physical barrier for pedestrians to reach the outer harbor. State and federal officials disagreed and kept the elevated highway because of concerns that removing it would cause traffic congestion.[2]

Now, less than two years after the $29 million investment into the Skyway and fourteen years after the $55 million investment to redesign Fuhrmann Blvd and connect Southtowns traffic to the Skyway bridge, we are talking about tearing the bridge down? Many of the officials pushing for the Skyway’s removal are the same ones who pushed to keep an elevated highway to feed traffic into the Skyway. Where have their concerns of traffic congestion gone?[3]

How much will it cost to remove the Skyway after we just fixed it? A 2014 plausibility report from New York State says it could cost somewhere between $1.2 to $1.4 billion. That same report also concludes, “The viability and value of economic development enabled by removal of the Skyway is considered to be relatively minor and inconsequential to the local economy.”[4]

Buffalo has a long history of planning blunders and fiscal problems. We do not have the luxury of spending up to $1.4 billion on a project that brings “inconsequential” economic benefit. We have real needs here, including the fact that our public transportation system does not work. The Biden Administration has committed to reuniting communities, improving train service, fixing public transportation, and electrifying transportation vehicles. Building an electric streetcar system like they are doing in Milwaukee would be a much more effective use of transportation dollars.[5] There are other transportation projects that can bring far greater benefit to our region including high speed rail to Toronto, light rail extensions to Amherst and from the East Side to the airport, or restoring Humboldt Parkway.

As I see it, we have a functioning piece of infrastructure that has just been repaired at a substantial public cost. Tearing it down would create traffic congestion, exacerbate air quality problems in economically disadvantaged communities, and bring no significant economic benefit to our region. Other northern cities are forging ahead with transformative ideas that improve the quality of life for their people and spark economic growth. We need a project and a vision that reflects the new Buffalo. For me, that means transportation plans that better connect people and help reduce carbon emissions: streetcars, high speed rail, and light rail.