Chuck Schumer on Niagara Falls Highway: “Tear Down This Road”

Plans for section of the Robert Moses Parkway in downtown Niagara Falls would turn the highway into a two-lane road and reconnect the waterfront with downtown. Image: Frank Report

Most members of Congress are excited to cut the ribbon for a new stretch of freeway, but it’s a smaller set indeed that will stand up for the removal of a highway, no matter how neighborhood-blighting. As of yesterday, count New York Senator Chuck Schumer among their number.

“Right now, the Robert Moses Parkway stands as a Berlin Wall, with the state park on one side and the city on the other,” Schumer said at a press conference yesterday. “Our message to the transportation secretary is clear: Tear down this road.”

The highway in question is a short stretch of the Robert Moses Parkway in downtown Niagara Falls (the name adds a certain historical sweetness to its removal). The highway, which sits on an elevated berm, would be replaced with a lower and slower two lane “park road” and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Taking down one mile of highway, said Schumer’s office, would open up 40 acres of the waterfront.

U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer announcing his support for tearing down a section of the Robert Moses Parkway, seen in the background. Image: Niagara Gazette

Schumer promised to secure $10 million in federal funds needed to complete the design work for the highway removal and urged Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to fast-track the project through federal review. “For years, this project that would help transform downtown Niagara Falls has been stuck in the mud. Enough is enough; we must tear down this road,” said Schumer in a press release. “Lowering the Parkway would connect downtown with the majestic views of the waterfront park, pumping new life into Niagara Falls. We absolutely have to get this done.”

The Congress for the New Urbanism, the leading advocates of highway teardowns nationally, celebrated Schumer’s support. “CNU’s John Norquist has long argued that freeways like the Robert Moses Parkway are monoliths from a disastrous planning era have no place in cities,” said CNU program director Caitlin Ghoshal. “But federal, state, and local governments are just now better understanding the financial and transportation implications that make teardowns a good decision for taxpayers.”

CNU lists three New York highways above the Robert Moses Parkway on its list of “Freeways Without Futures” — the Bronx’s Sheridan Expressway, Buffalo’s Skyway and Route 5, and Syracuse’s I-81. Though Schumer forcefully articulated the damage that highways can do to the urban fabric yesterday, don’t expect him to get out in front when it comes to the removal of those three highways.

While there is a local push underway to remove a much longer stretch of the Robert Moses connecting Niagara Falls to Lewiston, New York, Schumer said he’s staying out of that fight. “I’ll leave that up to the local folks. When the local folks determine that’s something is good and needed, and the facts bear that out, my job is to bring federal dollars,” Schumer said at a press conference, according to belowthefalls.com.

Schumer decided to support the downtown Niagara Falls highway teardown, his office said, due to a solid consensus behind removing the downtown stretch of the Robert Moses and the project’s particularly strong economic development benefit, given Niagara Falls’ 8 million annual tourists.

Still, it’s an exclusive club of United States senators willing to support a reduction in automobile capacity at all. Connecticut’s Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman each voiced support for New Haven’s plans to replace the Route 34 highway stub with a boulevard and development, and Maryland’s Barbara Mikulski — who got her start in politics fighting a freeway — cheered the teardown of Baltimore’s Route 40. Dianne Feinstein supported but didn’t succeed in removing San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway while mayor.

Of course, Schumer could really set himself apart by pushing for more than one highway teardown.