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Ryan, residents urge state to use fed funds to reconnect neighborhoods cut off by Routes 33, 198

198-33 split from Gillette Avenue
Michael Mroziak
Standing at the foot of Gillette Avenue in Buffalo, one sees the Route 198-Route 33 split. Some are calling on the state to invest newly available federal infrastructure dollars to reconstruct both roadways and reconnect neighborhoods severed by them decades ago.

As part of the federal infrastructure bill, New York State is receiving money for new highway projects but also the restoration of neighborhoods that were split up by past highway projects. Residents and community advocates joined a New York State Senator Friday, calling on Albany to make two Buffalo thoroughfares a top priority.

The State Department of Transportation will receive $11.6 billion for new highway projects, and an additional $1 billion for reconnecting neighborhoods.

State Senator Sean Ryan chose to host a Friday news conference at the foot of Gillette Avenue, which overlooks the Route 33-Route 198 split. As cars traveled below, Ryan admitted finding the site was difficult.

Ellen Harris-Harvey, president of the Trinidad Neighborhood Association Block Club, says Ryan’s not alone. Back when she and her husband bought their house, even the realtor couldn’t immediately navigate the neighborhood.

“We drove around for over two hours in circles. That's how difficult it was for a realtor, who has that for a profession to find a property on this side of Humboldt Parkway, because we were cut off by the 198,” she recalled. “So imagine a fire truck trying to come if there was a fire. Imagine an emergency vehicle trying to come. When we had an ice storm, National Grid wouldn't even come down Humboldt Parkway, because it seems like it's one-way because nobody knows that it's two-way.”

Most of Humboldt Parkway is one-way, except for a small stretch which is inaccessible directly from Route 198.

“I used to walk across Humboldt to the store to get some ice cream for my kids. I can no longer do any of that, except at East Ferry and East Utica,” said Clifford Bell, a 55-year resident of the neighborhood.

These, community advocates and the senator say, are just examples of consequences of decades-old injustice caused by highway projects that severed once vibrant neighborhoods of color by highway projects. Humboldt Parkway is now divided by the Kensington Expressway (Route 33). Delaware Park and Martin Luther King Park are now divided by both that highway and the Scajaquada (Route 198).

Ryan says when decisions were made in the 1950s and 1960s to build many highway systems, there was no consultation with residents of minority neighborhoods. Their feelings, he suggests, were of no concern to planners. Now, he is among those who want two roadways reworked to reconnect divided neighborhoods.

“We're in the middle of a really big study on this this whole corridor. And we're doing community outreach now. We're asking people to give their opinions,” he said. “We just want to be clear that when we started this idea, looking at the Scajaquada, it was really separated from looking at the 33. But we are now moving the borders and we want the DOT to move the border to that study, not to stop at Parkside Avenue, but to go right to Martin Luther King Park, because we can't really look at the 198 without looking at the 33. They are both intertwined and they feed into one another. So if we want to fix this problem, and we want to reunite our neighborhoods together, we’ve got to look at both highway systems.”

Several options are still under consideration. The Greater Buffalo Regional Transportation Council has planned a public hearing for December 9, at a venue to be announced later.

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.