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Higgins turns up heat in his call to have Buffalo Skyway removed

The U.S. congressman is filing a notice of hazardous condition to state officials claiming bridge the poses a threat to motorists, pedestrians, and the environment.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — U.S. Rep Brian Higgins (D-South Buffalo) upped the ante in his longtime call for the removal of Buffalo's Skyway by announcing that he would be putting state officials on notice of what he contends are deficiencies which threaten the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and the environment. 

"We are filing a notice of hazardous condition to the New York State Attorney General, the  New York State Commissioner of the Department of Transportation(DOT)  and to the New York State Commissioner of Environmental conservation," said Higgins, who was joined by New York State Senator Tim Kennedy at a Thursday morning news conference.

"They need to know there are hazardous conditions ... and that if they fail to do something about it, they have exposure relative to liability," Higgins said.

Kennedy, who chairs the State Senate Transportation Committee, is also calling for the Skyways removal.

Higgins claimed, among other things, that there are a high number of closures, crashes, and disabled vehicles on the Skyway, that those below it who may be visiting Canalside are in danger of falling debris, and that runoff from the bridge endangers the nearby shoreline of Lake Erie.

HIggins' claim that the Skyway's design leads to higher number of traffic incidents, however, runs counter to a State DOT study conducted in 2008, which concluded the average number of accidents and incidents over a four-year period on the Skyway was 32% lower than the statewide average for an access controlled four lane divided urban highway.

Higgins also contests that if anything like the Skyway (opened in 1955) were to be built today, it would not need a breakdown lane, which the bridge does not have.

"If you have a mechanical breakdown it's a problem," Higgins said, "so, that's just a basic federal safety standard. This bridge wouldn't be approved for construction today because it lacks all of that."

However, the Grand Island bridges, which are also in Higgins' district and which pre-date the Skyway in their construction, also are without breakdown lanes, carry cars and trucks over water, and are often being repaired. And there is no call by Higgins to have them removed.

Meanwhile, there is growing opposition to Higgins' call to remove the Skyway not only from members of the public but from state lawmakers as well.

The entire NYS Assembly delegation from the Buffalo area signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation saying they strongly oppose the Skyway's removal, and called any effort to do so a non-priority for Buffalo.

In a recent 2 On Your Side Special Report, Assemblyman Patrick Burke called the concept of the Skyways removal a bad idea, and a waste of money that would benefit no one.

And while Higgins says noticeable rust on the Skyway's steel girders indicates potential structural deficiencies, the DOT recently spent $30 million to repair the Skyway, including the replacement of its bridge deck, which it says will extend its serviceable life for another 20 years.

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