TOWN OF TONAWANDA , N.Y. - The Niagara Falls Boulevard Pedestrian Road Safety Audit Report was made public Wednesday, September 26.
The report is the result of a walking audit, conducted by town engineers from Amherst and Tonawanda. The audit found a number of pedestrian safety issues along a 2.5 stretch of the boulevard, and as they were putting together the report, Town of Amherst Supervisor, Brian Kulpa tells 2 On Your Side the town engineers have been sharing their findings with the DOT for months now.
Thursday, 2 On Your Side reached out to Todd Westhius, Chief of Staff for New York State's Department of Transportation for comment. He never returned the phone call.
Who did respond that day? Susan Surdej, NYSDOT regional spokesperson for Western New York.
She told 2 On Your Side's Emily Lampa that the state is aware of the study and is waiting for the final draft to be sent to the DOT when it's accepted by the Amherst Town Board on October 1. She said the NYSDOT would not be recording phone or on-camera interviews on the topic.
She explained that the state has been fixing smaller problems outlined in the report but could not specify what those repairs were and where they were done.
In terms of bigger improvements, Surdej says the NYSDOT plans to wait until the completion of their own study of Niagara Falls Blvd in the Fall of 2019.
2 On Your Side then reached out to the Albany press office for NYSDOT that same morning, asking for the agency to confirm what Surdej had said and to give more details.
Curtis Jetter, NYSDOT Assistant Director of Communications, told us to send an e-mail with specific questions. Here are the 11 questions we sent in reply:
What will the NYSDOT do with the information documented in the NFB Pedestrian Road Safety Audit?
Has any work been done to fix the problems outlined in the draft copies, sent to DOT by the Town of Amherst engineers?
Can you specify what those repairs were and where they were done?
Why isn't NYSDOT routinely inspecting signals and equipment?
If the towns of Amherst & Tonawanda can gather this kind of information in 8 hours and finalize an audit in 4 months...why does it take the state more than a year to complete a similar study?
What is the name of the contractor assessing Niagara Falls Boulevard for the state?
How much are they being paid for this study?
To confirm, the study started when? And ends Fall 2019?
What happens after that study is complete?
Does it then go to a committee for review?
Those questions were sent before noon on Thursday. At 4:43pm, Jetter replied "You did not indicate a deadline for this, hoping to get you a response today but it's looking more like tomorrow."
Friday morning, 2 On Your Side notified Jetter and Surdej that a 3 p.m. deadline has been set for those answers, so that they could be included in the 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts. Neither sent a reply to confirm that they received the message. 2 On Your Side did not get a response to the questions by 3 p.m. nor by the 5 & 6 p.m. newscasts.
We asked State Assemblyman, Robin Schimminger what he makes of this since he has been pushing the NYSDOT to act since 2 On Your Side first brought pedestrian safety concerns to him in May.
He was one of a number of state leaders who supported the idea of a local independant review of the Boulevard.
"The highway departments have great expertise," Schimminger said of the town engineers' qualifications to assess the roadway, "and they have knowledge of what's in the DOT handbook."
Schimminger tells 2 On Your Side he plans to followup with the NYSDOT, "I think we should. We'll do it in tandem with the other state legislators who were the godfathers of this walk audit and with the town supervisors and highway superintendents. If indeed the reaction of DOT is, 'Oh, nice report...thanks. We'll put it on a shelf for a year.' That's not what we had in mind."