Look It’s A Bird, It’s A Plane, It’s The Skyway & It’s Still Here
In February 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to Cheektowaga announcing that he would be putting his voice behind a proposal to tear down the Buffalo Skyway.
Cuomo also announced a state-sponsored design competition for an alternative to the Skyway, offering a $100,000 prize for the best design.
The winning entry, called City of Lights, would eliminate the Skyway, but preserve the southern half of it to be turned into a lofty urban park or Cloud Walk.
The most prominent political figure involved in calling for the Skyway’s removal had been Rep. Brian Higgins, who was sharply critical of the state for moving ahead with a plan to re-deck the Skyway and preserve its useful life for an additional 25 years.
The state had just completed that project, at a cost of $29 million, when Cuomo began calling for the Skyway’s removal.
While the two may agree that the Skyway has outlived its usefulness and needs to go, there is a sharp difference in their opinions as to what should remain of it according to a report aired on WGRZ-TV.
“The state of New York is not going to tell us what to do,” said Higgins, who wants the Skyway completely removed and for no part of it to remain, even as a unique urban recreational area, such as a “cloud walk” as envisioned by Cuomo. I'm for creating a stunning transformation of the outer harbor which is impossible right now because of the elevated section of Rt.5 and the skyway,” Higgins said.
Higgins is a representative for federal government. But the Skyway belongs to the state.
Whatever happens to it, it will rely heavily on federal funding, likely from the multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill being proposed by President Biden.
“We think the 'cloud walk' could be transformative,” said Tim Tielman of the Campaign for Greater Buffalo History, Architecture & Culture, which bills itself as Buffalo’s premier preservation organization. “But we must not miss the big picture.”
The big picture, in Tielman’s mind, is 12 acres of land in downtown Buffalo along the inner harbor, which, if the Skyway was removed, would open the land for housing and other development.
“We would like, if the skyway comes down, to use these 12 acres to rebuild these neighborhoods," Tielman said.
Meanwhile there are a growing number of people who are becoming more vocal in their objection to removing the Skyway.
“I love the Skyway,” said Rachele Schneekloth of Buffalo, who founded the Skyway Club three months ago as a Facebook group that now has nearly 1,000 members.
She's also behind a Change.org petition that, in one month’s time, is approaching 2,500 signatures.
Noting the sweeping views drivers get of downtown and Lake Erie as they cross Buffalo's signature span, Schneekloth suggests that after more than 65 years the Skyway has become part of what makes Buffalo, Buffalo,” she said.
Moreover, she doesn’t think there is a great call for the Skyway’s removal.
“It’s like they skipped that step,” said Schneekloth, “which is one of the things we are asking for in the petition. Let’s have a conversation as a city of what we really want to do instead.
Nonetheless, the DOT recently revealed that it is considering an alternate route, which would be either an expressway or a boulevard with timed lighting connecting Route 5 at Tifft Street to a new interchange on the I-190 near Baily Avenue.
However, as the new roadway would traverse mostly what is now former brownfields and undeveloped land, how much of an impact it might have on nearby residents is debatable.