New York State In-depth

Higgins invites Transportation Secretary Buttigieg to visit Buffalo & ‘witness division’ caused by Kensington & Scajaquada expressways

Thu, Jul 7th 2022 08:50 pm

Request comes as USDOT launches new Reconnecting Communities Grant program

As the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) kicks off a new federal grant program aimed at reconnecting divided communities, Congressman Brian Higgins suggests Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg should take the opportunity to witness first-hand how transportation decisions of the past have impacted the City of Buffalo.

In a letter to Buttigieg, Higgins writes:

Dear Secretary Buttigieg:

I write today to extend an invitation to visit my district in Buffalo, New York, a community that has experienced firsthand the atrocities that can occur in part as a result of destructive urban renewal policies that facilitate racism, segregation, and inequality. Your work to correct historic wrongs and invest in equitable infrastructure, including this week’s announcement of the launch of the Reconnecting Communities program, is commendable and necessary. The Kensington and Scajaquada Expressways in Buffalo exemplify the need to prioritize programs like this and Western New York would welcome your visit as we heal from tragedy and build a plan for a more equitable future.

On May 14th, a racist mass shooter driven by horrific conspiracy theories targeted the Tops Friendly Market on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo, murdering ten people and injuring three more. Eleven of the thirteen victims were Black. The store was targeted because of the high percentage of Black neighborhood residents and shoppers. The City of Buffalo is racially segregated in part due to racist urban planning practices that perpetuate and encourage inequality.

The Tops Market is 0.5 miles away from Humboldt Parkway and the adjacent Kensington Expressway, NYS Route 33. Humboldt Parkway was built as a centerpiece of the Olmsted Parks system to connect Delaware Park and what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Park. However, since the construction of the Kensington in the 1960s, the road has only served to divide the city, contribute to disparities, and destroy a once majestic Olmsted Parkway. The Scajaquada Expressway, NYS Route 198, connects to the Kensington, and similarly has damaged the urban landscape. The road bisects and disturbs Delaware Park, the crown jewel of the Olmsted Parks system. Rejoining these communities is essential to addressing the misguided policies of the past and building a more equal Buffalo.

The Commissioner of the New York State Department of Transportation has indicated to me that the Federal Highway Administration has been fully engaged in the development of the remedy to the destruction of Humboldt Parkway and has leant meaningful support and guidance to this effort, which is a credit to your leadership of the Department of Transportation. Stakeholders such as Governor Hochul have pledged support and resources towards restoring Olmsted’s vision and creating a more equitable future for all Buffalonians. Your voice and vision would be a meaningful addition to the conversation in Western New York. Thank you for your kind consideration of this invitation and I look forward to your reply.”

On Thursday, June 30, the New York State Department of Transportation held a public scoping meeting to provide public review and comments on several concepts under consideration for the future of the Kensington. gov. Kathy Hochul has committed up to $1 billion – a combination of state and federal resources – to the Humboldt Parkway neighborhood. A final decision and construction could happen by 2024. Information on the project is available at: https://kensingtonexpressway.dot.ny.gov/.

The “Bipartisan Infrastructure Law,” supported by Higgins, included $1 billion for a pilot program to help reconnect communities. The USDOT recently announced further details of the competitive grant program.

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