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DOT to 'call it a day' if public rejects latest Scajaquada Corridor plan

New York State Transportation Commissioner Matthew Driscoll has a new plan for the Scajaquada Expressway - and if the public does not go along with this latest version, the DOT will walk away, with the road a slow-speed expressway as it is now.

The Scajaquada has been an issue since before it was built. The debate heated up a decade ago and then languished in the design shops of the DOT until 2015, when Gov. Andrew Cuomo stepped in after a young child in Delaware Park was killed by a car that came off the roadway.

That led to a reduced speed limit - from 50 mph to 30 mph - and some other "traffic calming" controls.

The DOT has $104 million to make major changes in the road and has completed a series of design plans, based upon public feedback. Tuesday night, Driscoll showed off the newest plan, which meets federal rules.

"It includes bike pathways right along the Scajaquada and that connect to existing bike paths and a reduced median," he said. "You may recall from previous meetings, people were very concerned about the size of the median between the roadways and so we have reduced it from 12' to 4'. There will be no landscaping on that. There will be ornamental lighting."

Driscoll said the road has to stay. Otherwise traffic would clog regular streets. It also cannot be a two-lane road because Washington, D.C. requires a center guard rail for the traffic volume.

"Again, everybody needs to work together and find a middle ground and I believe we have done that," Driscoll said. "We've taken a lot of public comment. We've incorporated a lot of ideas here. There are things we just can't do. We believe this project really embraces nearly all of the elements of urban boulevard in what is an exquisite, historic park."

That has always been the issue: running an expressway through Frederick Law Olmsted's design, cutting the park in half. Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy Executive Director Stephanie Crockatt said it is not what her group wanted.                                            

"We've seen variations of this design before and, although they continue to take baby steps in the right direction, we think that there's more that could be done to make it really great," Crockatt said.

The Conservancy called for a more bike-and-pedestrian-friendly plan that included turning the bridge over Delaware Avenue into a pedestrian and bike bridge. Neighbor Tom Giambrone agreed it is a bad design.

"It seems like they have ignored all of the Olmsted Conservancy recommendations and they have a highway that they're going to put these speed bumps in," Giambrone said. "These things that are in the center of the highway, I don't know who is going to water, take care of those plants."

Giambrone compared the design to those giant flower boxes down the center of much of Main Street in North Buffalo, where plants died without water.

Science Museum President and CEO Marisa Wigglesworth said the plan could tie together cultural institutions.

"Thoughtful next evolution and what I'm really excited to think about and be a part of is a comprehensive plan that looks at the full scale of the roadway and really positions it as a culture corridor, connecting all of our city's wonderful cultural offerings," Wigglesworth said.

If this latest plan is approved, Driscoll wants to start construction in the fall of next year and then build over the two following construction seasons. If not...

"They really have the best interests of the community and the traffic safety system in mind," said Driscoll. "It's been a long process for me as commissioner. It's been a little over two years. I pledged two years ago in this room that we would bring this to fruition and we're going to and we hope the community embraces it. If they don't, we will leave the short term traffic calming elements in place and we'll call it a day."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.