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Shoreline Trail project gets underway on former Bethlehem Steel grounds

Some of the last relics of a former steel production complex in Lackawanna are being removed to make way for the Shoreline Trail.

Fencing that, for years, could be seen by motorists traveling along Route 5 is being removed. So, too, are rail tracks running parallel to the street. 

Last year, Erie County announced the acquisition of 150 acres of former Bethlehem Steel land. The goal is to turn that land into new commercial and industrial space but not as before.

"Not the heavy industry of the past," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "For light industry, for e-commerce, for logistics, for advanced manufacturing, the type of industry that we want to bring to this community."

Some of the acreage will be used as buffer space.

Poloncarz told reporters his office has received inquiries from businesses interested in locating to the site when ready. He explained the land offers something very hard to find: access to multiple avenues for transporting goods.

"There are very few sites like this left in the United States that have access to rail, that have access to highway road and have access to a deep water port," he said. "There are only a few sites in the United States that actually have all those three access points, that are in our region, that still exist."

Plans also include the introduction of a bike path that will connect to the existing Outer Harbor Trail. With future plans calling for the acquisition of 90 additional acres, bicycle enthusiasts look forward to the possibility of a path that allows them to continue further south and west, uninterrrupted.

"It's been great to see the Niagara River Greenway come together and the Shoreline Trail, the Governor's announcement connecting Buffalo to Albany, down to New York, up to Canada," said Justin Booth of GOBike Buffalo. "With 750 miles of trails and this additional connection, it starts bringing us south, connecting us to Woodlawn Beach and ideally, in the future, all the way down to Cleveland."

Congressman Brian Higgins, speaking of the Shoreline Trail, praised Erie County for including recreational elements such as bike and pedestrian paths to the overall plan.

"Twenty years ago, they were foresaken," said Higgins. "Ten years ago, they were the second thought. Now, they're the forethought in the kinds of projects that add quality to communities. And you will find, each and every time, that these kinds of projects are successful. Everything around it, the value is increased, both economically and in terms of life quality."

Through 2018, Erie County, New York State and the federal government have committed a combined $21.9 million dollars to redevelop the former Bethlehem Steel site. An additional $10 million from Buffalo Billion II is set aside for further investment through 2022, including the desired acquisition of more land.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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