Buffalonians have long recognized the towering Skyway Bridge as a barrier to waterfront redevelopment
. Built in 1953, this 1.4-mile long, 110-foot tall limited-access bridge begins at the Inner Harbor downtown, crosses the Buffalo River and touches down as Route 5 in the Outer Harbor. Route 5 continues for another 2.6 miles as a limited-access expressway built on an embankment of slag. The highway's oddly configured exit ramps lead to a confusing series of one-way streets that further hinder access to the waterfront. A total of 41,500 vehicles per day travel along this blighted corridor. There is no pedestrian access between downtown and the Outer Harbor.
Despite calls for redevelopment of this area, the NYSDOT selected to retain the embanked Route 5 (and reinforce it with new ramps) instead of replacing it with a surface boulevard supporting an urban street-and-block network, even though a boulevard-only option was deemed viable in the project's environmental impact statement. NYSDOT's current plan leaves aside the fate of the Skyway Bridge, but its decision to retain the embanked Route 5 will necessitate that the Skyway Bridge be replaced by a similar, high-speed expressway facility. It also rebuilds and reconfigures an access road adjacent to the embanked freeway, resulting in a total of 8 lanes of roadway with a right-of-way width of 214 feet. The agency's designs, which leave waterfront access highly restricted and promote auto-dependent land uses, set the stage for limited reinvestment on the waterfront.
A coalition of citizens and civic organizations, including members of the Buffalo Common Council, David Franczyk and Michael Kearns, Partners for a Livable Western New York, Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, and CNU continue to call for a surface boulevard option noting its environmental and economic development benefits. Their plan would utilize an additional 16 acres of waterfront land that would otherwise be paved or inaccessible in the NYSDOT plan. Led by Julie O'Neil, the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and others are currently challenging the NYSDOT decision in court.