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Transit Drive-In expansion on hold in light of DOT concerns

Transit Drive-In Facebook page

Plans to expand the Transit Drive-In Theater in Lockport are currently on hold as owner Rick Cohen works through a challenge from the state Department of Transportation.

The DOT alleges that Cohen’s plan for a fifth screen to increase the theater’s capacity will not do enough to lessen traffic congestion and safety concerns on Route 78, South Transit Road. Cohen disagrees with the assessment.

“We do not cause congestion on Transit Road,” said Cohen. “The four lanes are continually open. The traffic on Transit Road does not get plugged up. People are off on the shoulder or in the median waiting to turn into the drive-in. It doesn’t cause a traffic standstill.”

DOT Spokesperson Gary Holmes said the department respects and appreciates Cohen’s position, but notes that their records indicate otherwise.

“There are backups for cars pulling in on the right and cars coming in from the left,” said Holmes. “Our responsibility is to make sure that we can move cars along through that corridor safely.”

Cohen reasserted that the problem of long lines is caused by limited capacity on big movie nights that don’t account for the majority of the season. He said the theater’s expansion to a 4th screen and the addition of a second entryway helped alleviate similar problems fifteen years ago.

Cohen also pointed out that the drive-in is not the only local venue that draws long lines of vehicles for popular events.

“They get big crowds at the Bills games. They get big crowds at Artpark for the concerts. They get big crowds at the Erie County Fair, the Niagara County Fair, and there’s a lot of congestion around those areas, too, that dwarfs our minor one-hour backup.”

Holmes said the issue is not a matter of size comparison, but rather that it comes down to one thing: that “safety is always an issue regardless of the roadway.”

The DOT – in what Holmes specified is a suggestion, not a plan or proposal – floated the idea of Cohen moving the entrance to the theater further south on Transit Road, constructing a nearly 600 foot long que lane, and reconstructing his ticket booth at the back of the theater property.

“It may not be the final solution by any means, but we’re in a preliminary phase here,” said Holmes. All-together, the idea would cost Cohen upwards of $110,000.

Credit Rick Cohen / Transit Drive-In Theater
Transit Drive-In Theater
A rendering displays the originally proposed layout of the Transit Drive-In with a fifth screen.

“It creates a situation where not only is it logistically impractical, but it also pushes the cost of my project beyond what is feasible for me to justify as a business decision,” said Cohen. “At a half a million dollars I can justify the cost of building a fifth screen. At three quarters of a million dollars, I cant.”

Cohen said he has already agreed to add the new que line, which will cost him approximately $50,000 on top of the $500,000 for the new screen. Holmes said the DOT is willing to talk about it.

“We’re willing to work to work with [Cohen], sit at the table, and see if we can come up with a suggestion that fits all parties here. It’s not a closed door matter,” said Holmes.

Cohen said if a solution can be reached that satisfies the DOT and doesn’t cripple his business, then he can go ahead with the fifth screen as planned.

“If we can’t find a solution, we’ve had four screens,” said Cohen. “We can live with four screens.”

Avery began his broadcasting career as a disc jockey for WRUB, the University at Buffalo’s student-run radio station.
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