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Work is far down the road, but leaders celebrate money in place for redesigning Kensington

Kensington Expressway view from Buffalo Museum of Science.
Michael Mroziak
/
WBFO News
A view of Route 33 (Kensington Expressway) from the vicinity of the Buffalo Museum of Science.

More detailed plans have yet to be put in place, but local government and community leaders were celebrating Friday the $1 billion set aside in the New York State budget to redesign the Kensington Expressway. Leaders referred to it as a “transformational” investment that would reconnect a neighborhood severed by the highway for more than 60 years.

For many years, the Restore Our Community Coalition (ROCC) has pushed to build a deck above Route 33 along Humboldt Parkway in order to restore what was once a vibrant African-American community that included a park space designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

“We're supporting a phase one project that was actually really kind of designed and put forth by a plan that ROCC did in conjunction with the University at Buffalo. This is a simple covering up. There will still be traffic that will flow under the bottom. But there will be another tree lined street, much like Olmsted designed years ago, that will be above ground,” said New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.

Under this first phase, the deck would be constructed above the highway between Best and East Ferry Streets.

Those calling for the reconstruction say installing the Kensington Expressway not only severed the neighborhood, but also created numerous economic, environmental and health injustices for those living immediately along the highway.

Rep. Brian Higgins says while ROCC and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy had discussed restoring Humboldt Parkway for decades, serious talks with government officials began two years ago, during the pandemic, when it was anticipated a major federal infrastructure investment bill was coming.

“This idea of expressway building that obliterated neighborhoods is a national problem. But it's no more acute than it is right here in Buffalo,” Higgins said.

Stephanie Jeter, who chairs the Restore Our Community Coalition, says reconnecting nearby neighborhoods will go a long way toward healing the community psyche, but that’s only a start.

“We’ve got to also restore houses that were torn down,” she said. “We’ve got to rekindle the heart and soul of Fillmore Avenue, and Jefferson Avenue, and East Delavan Avenue, essential business trips in our community. We're going to lift the spirit of our people in a way that says we belong.”

An Environmental Impact Study is pending, a process that is expected to take about two years to complete. The state budget also includes $30 million for the study. When pressed for details, including concerns about air quality and safety in what would become tunnels, Peoples-Stokes suggested those matters have been considered.

“There is a meeting coming up in June, where the Department of Transportation will come and talk to the community about this project,” Peoples-Stokes said. And I would also submit to you, the plans of how it will look, and its possibilities, are further along than you think.”