NIAGARA FALLS, NY – Members of the city’s Tourism Advisory Board are upset with New York State, accusing Albany of dragging its feet on an agreement aimed at alleviating the traffic tie-ups which sometimes occur in the Cataract City on busy weekends and holidays.
“We've just been told one thing, and we've just been getting the run around,” groused Pat Proctor, who serves as the advisory board’s chairman.
The board is composed of business leaders and residents who serve in a voluntary capacity to enhance the fortunes of the city’s visitor industry, which is the life blood of its economy.
Traffic has been a primary concern, according to Proctor, particularly in the vicinity of the world famous Falls, where he says the backup has been known to stretch for miles.
An estimated 7 million visitors flock to the American side of Niagara Falls on an annual basis.
“You’ve got people just sitting in traffic in this part of town for two hours or more,” said Proctor. “It’s barely moving and with no guidance, and because of this, visitors immediately get a bad taste in their mouths once they are here."
Members of the Tourism Advisory Board thought they’d hit upon a solution over the winter when, in conferencing with state officials, they worked out a plan involving the many busses that bring visitors to the state park dozens at a time.
Under the plan, busses would be forbidden from traveling down the last stretch of the Niagara Scenic Parkway, and unloading passengers on a narrow section of Prospect Street at the main entrance to Niagara Falls State Park.
Instead, busses are now supposed to divert onto Old Main Street, a block away, unload passengers, and then travel to designated areas established by the city to wait while the tourists they bring explore the Falls.
That is not always happening, according to Proctor, and he lays the blame for that, in part, at the feet of state officials who have yet to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which he says is critical to the implementation of the plan.
Indeed, while the city erected a sign on the Niagara Falls Scenic Parkway which directs approaching busses to exit, it is a solitary, black and white sign, no larger or noticeable than those which post the speed limit.
Proctor and his board would like the state Department of Transportation to bring in one of its large, digital, flashing signs in order to catch the attention of bus drivers.
Moreover, according to Proctor, the MOU would call for NY State Park Police to be involved in traffic control approaching the park along the parkway, which is that agency’s’ responsibility.
But without a signed MOU, Proctor says that can’t occur.
“This should not be considered a small problem,” said Jason Zona, who represents downtown Niagara Falls on the Niagara County Legislature.
Zona notes that City of Niagara Falls Police are already tied up at intersections throughout downtown, at a heavy overtime cost to the city, to accommodate visitors primarily traveling to the state park.
“This was supposed to be a joint effort between the city and the state,” said Zona. “We thought we had a deal on a temporary solution. It’s surprising to me that it’s not settled, and I can tell you there are businesses downtown that are up in arms over this and quite upset.”
Zona said he will seek to meet with state officials “to get this situation rectified.”
Sam Hoyt, who serves as Governor Cuomo’s regional representative, told WGRZ-TV that funding has been secured for a $300,000 traffic study to guide a more permanent solution to the problem.
“A study will take four or five years to implement,” countered Zona. “We had a plan that could help us right away, and we need action on it now.”