By Mark Scheer
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — The final version of a scoping report for the planned reconfiguration of the northern section of the Robert Moses Parkway is now available.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced Friday the posting of documents related to the project, which focuses on the redesign of the parkway between Niagara Falls and the village of Lewiston.
The final report includes public comments on a draft public scoping report which was issued in February.
The scoping process produced three alternatives for redesigning the parkway's northern section, all of which call for removal of a roughly two-mile stretch between Main Street and Findlay Drive in the city. All three alternatives allow for restoration of an adjoining segment of Whirlpool Street to provide north-south access within city limits. Once removed, state parks said plans call for the former parkway right-of-way to be landscaped with native species and equipped with a new multi-purpose trail network.
The three remaining options include: creating a continuous park-scaled road using a portion the parkway right-of-way from Findlay Drive to Center Street in Lewiston; removal of parkway sections in selective locations by merging the road into and from adjoining segments of Lewiston Road (Rte 104) and full removal of the roadway which would result in use of Route 104 for all north-south access.
Although a final alternative has not been selected, the 112-page scoping report, prepared by state parks' consultant, the Parsons Group, recommends that the project be carried out in two phases, each with its own design and environmental review. The report recommends removal of the section between Main Street and Findlay Drive as the first phase, with the second phase focusing on the remainder of the parkway from Findlay Drive to Lewiston.
Bob Baxter, conservation chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership, a citizens group that has long advocated for total parkway removal, classified the entire scoping process as a "dishonest manipulation," suggesting the phased plan recommended in the report essentially guarantees removal to Findlay Drive only.
"We waited over a year for this? By any definition, 'creating a sensitively-configured transportation network along the gorge' is a road," said Baxter, quoting from a section of the report itself. "Establishing a road as a goal eliminates the potential for total road removal, hence keeping the detour around Niagara Falls business districts and destroying the possibility of developing a regional ecotourism market. (State parks) shouldn't keep implying total removal is a possibility. It's insulting. The entire scoping, in the land of reason, is a dishonest manipulation. How about a 'sensitively-configured' total removal from downtown to the city line?"
Lisa Vitello, a member of the city's tourism advisory board, which is on record supporting parkway removal, also disagrees with the Findlay Drive cutoff option. She believes it would be better for the city itself if state parks "tweaked" the total removal option to allow for removal of the section from Main Street to the city line, instead of all the way to Lewiston. The option would not only support the city's best interests, but also quell concerns raised by Lewiston area home and business owners who support parkway retention, she said.
"If you don't remove it to at least the city line, it does nothing for business because you would get off on Whirlpool (Street) and still bypass the city," Vitello said. "It's not going to do anything to revitalize Niagara Falls."
State parks did not rule out the possibility of adjustments moving forward. The agency said it is working with its partner agencies, including the state-run USA Niagara Development Corp., to refine the remaining choices and to identify sources of funding to cover the cost of preliminary design. The process is expected to take about 18 months to complete.
"Each of these alternatives will be further refined and evaluated in a federal environmental impact statement," state parks said in a release issued Friday.
Meanwhile, state parks officials said progress is being made on a plan to improve waterfront access along the southern portion of the parkway. Gov. Andrew Cuomo authorized $11.5 million in additional funding as part of the tourism components of his “Buffalo Billion” economic development strategy for Western New York, bringing the total to $16.5 million in funds available to carry the project through final design and construction. State parks said final design is expected to begin soon and the project will likely go out to bid next summer, with construction starting in late 2014.UPDATED INFORMATION: Copies of the final scoping report for the planned reconfiguration of the northern section of the Robert Moses Parkway are now available for review at the the following locations: Niagara Falls City Hall; Earl W. Brydges Public Library in Niagara Falls; the Lewiston village and town halls; the Porter/Youngstown Library in Youngstown and the Niagara Region Parks Administrative Office at Prospect Point in Niagara Falls State Park. The report can also be viewed online at http://nysparks.com/inside-our-agency/public-documents.aspx.