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Supporters of a Kensington Expressway makeover rejoice

A plan to cover section of recessed expressway and create a tunnel with a landscaped top may be years from fruition, but a $1B funding promise leaves them hopeful.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — A few years ago it seemed like a pipe dream. 

A plan to cover part of the Kensington Expressway, make it into a tunnel, and restore a portion of the Olmsted-designed Humboldt Parkway.

But now with a $1 billion commitment from the state, the plan looks closer to reality.

And for those who've long hoped for this, Friday was a day to celebrate.

Though it could be years from now before what's proposed may come to fruition, with such a funding commitment on the table, it was hard for those who've advocated for this to contain their enthusiasm, as they gathered on Friday afternoon near the Buffalo Museum of Science in what used to be called Humboldt Park, at about the very spot where the once-grand Humboldt Parkway terminated before the Kensington was built in the 1960s.

The expressway was constructed as a means to connect downtown Buffalo to the airport in Cheektowaga.

While those who say $1 billion to cover just three-fourths of a mile of a recessed portion of the the expressway (which would then run through a tunnel with landscaping on top of it) would cure all sorts of ills for the surrounding neighborhood, others are a bit skeptical.

They include Robert Porter, who lived here when the Kensington was built, and still owns a home right along the portion of the expressway, which is proposed to capped over.

"It can't hurt, let me put it that way," Porter told 2 on Your Side. "But at what cost? A billion dollars? ... You really want to spend a billion dollars on this? Couldn't it be better spent better elsewhere? This is one of the poorest cities in the nation," Porter said.

"A billion can represent more than dollars," waxed Stephanie Crockett of the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. "Through this commitment, a billion particles of fresh oxygen with new green infrastructure may dry a billion tears of the past, and a billion hopes and prayers to reconnect and restore this vibrant community."

"What are you restoring?" countered Porter, noting the number of dilapidated homes nearby and the absence businesses. 

Mayor Byron Brown, who supports the project, says he understands Porter's perspective and agrees that if it is to be truly transformational, there has to be supplemental funds to improve housing and business prospects in neighborhoods near the Kensington.

"This can't be just under Department of Transportation traffic project," Brown said.

Nor is it simple.

As we've pointed out in previous reports, it's a lot more involved than adding a deck over the top of the existing expressway and calling in the landscapers.

There would have to be infrastructure for ventilation, filtration of the exhaust of cars in the tunnel, measures to ensure against flooding, and a means of escape in the event of an emergency.


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