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State of the State: Hochul talks of restoring neighborhood split by Kensington Expressway

Chris Caya

In her first State of the State message, Gov. Kathy Hochul spoke broadly of wanting to boost the efforts to restore the Humboldt Park neighborhood in Buffalo by apparently embracing plans to cover the Kensington Expressway.

Her speech, long on concepts, but deferring specific details until she releases the state’s budget proposals, talked of spending federal infrastructure funds across New York as “a quality of life issue.”

“We cannot let this moment slip by, and we won't,” she said.

With specific regard to the Kensington Expressway, Hochul said ”Infrastructure is about connections. We need to reconnect neighborhoods that were severed by asphalt highways, disproportionately impacting communities of color.

“ We're going to reverse the damage done more than half a century ago, with projects like the Kensington Expressway in Buffalo, I-81 in Syracuse, the Inner Loop in Rochester, and the Cross-Bronx Expressway. “

Approximately $1 billion in federal aid has been earmarked for such projects in New York State and must be individually allocated by the state Transportation Department. Hochul's remarks represent an endorsement of that effort.

The project to enclose the expressway is included in a policy book released with the address and designed to provide further details of proposals mentioned there.

"This project would reconnect and restore the east-west neighborhoods across the depressed section of the Kensington Expressway corridor (between Best Street and
East Ferry Street), and re-establish the green space originally provided by the Humboldt Parkway without compromising the long-term capacity provided by the expressway," it says.

Built in the 1960s, the expressway linking downtown Buffalo to the Greater Buffalo International Airport, sliced through the median of Frederick Law Olmsted's Humboldt Parkway and created a below-grade canyon separating the neighborhood into two halves.

Various groups including the Olmsted Park Conservancy, The University at Buffalo School of Architecture and Planning, the national Congress For the New Urbanism and local activists have called for restoring the parkway. In 2021, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) touted the project as way of spending federal infrastructure funds.

Most of the governor’s 34-minute address touched on COVID and specifically the need to help retain health care workers "starting with a retention bonus of up to $3,000 for our health and direct care workers that will help drive salaries throughout the healthcare workforce,” she said. The effort comes as part of a $10 billion commitment to health care, nursing home and disabled caregiver support.

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.
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