Niagara Scenic Parkway conversion phase 3 options unveiled

Feb. 8—Niagara Falls residents got a first-hand look at what the next phase of Niagara Scenic Parkway removal will look like.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation unveiled three possible options for turning more of the former highway into additional nature trails. This phase of parkway removal would focus on a 6-mile section between Findlay Drive in Niagara Falls to Center Street in the Village of Lewiston.

"We're excited to talk to the public about continuing the successes we hit on removing the scenic parkway phases one and two," said Mark Mistretta, the capital facilities manager for the Western District of State Parks.

One option would feature the total removal of both parkway lanes, with the current Whirlpool Street route terminating at the Whirlpool State Park parking lot. The disused southbound lane would be converted into a 13-foot wide multi-use trail similar to the one along Findlay Drive to Walnut Avenue, with overlook areas for different views of the Niagara Escarpment.

The other two proposals are similar in that while the former southbound lane would be converted into a multi-purpose trail, the northbound lane would be converted into a new road, following its current route with connections to nearby neighborhood roads where feasible. The main difference between the two is one option would feature roundabouts at certain intersections for better access to the state parks aligning with the trail.

"The idea is that reduced pavement creates green space, increases usable parkland for trail connectivity, and creates more of a road within a park rather than just a highway," Mistretta said. All these things add to quality of life providing overlooks and places for people to recreate."

The parkway, formerly known as the Robert Moses Parkway, was first completed in 1962 as a highway along the Niagara River and within Niagara Falls State Park. Local residents had long opposed the highway's presence, with the first removal being a section within the state park in 1982.

The state officially announced the parkway's removal back in 2013.

The parkway is also seeing less traffic than nearby roads through residential neighborhoods, with the 2023 annual average daily traffic data for the parkway showing that in the following sections:

—Whirlpool State Park to Devil's Hole State Park, AADT of 2,900 vehicles with 300 during peak hours

—Devil's Hole State Park to Upper Mountain Road, AADT of 2,800 vehicles with 300 during peak hours

—Upper Mountain Road to Center Street in Lewiston, AADT of 4,300 vehicles with 500 during peak hours.

Meanwhile, the neighboring Lewiston Road — Route 104 — showed the following traffic data in 2023:

—Findlay Drive to College Avenue, AADT of 4,200 vehicles with 450 during peak hours.

—College Avenue to Devil's Hole State Park, AADT of 3,400 vehicles with 375 during peak hours

—Devil's Hole State Park to Upper Mountain Road, AADT of 4,100 vehicles with 450 during peak hours.

—Upper Mountain Road to Military Road in Lewiston, AADT of 12,200 vehicles with 1,250 during peak hours.

—Military Road to Center Street in Lewiston, AADT of 21,100 vehicles with 2,050 during peak hours.

The first two phases of parkway removal, completed in 2018, removed a mile-long segment along the Niagara River and Niagara Falls State Park and replaced it with a park road.

The second phase, completed in 2021, replaced a two-mile section between Main Street and Whirlpool State Park with walking trails and gorge overlooks. Whirlpool Street and part of Third Street were reconstructed as two-lane roads.

Members of the public in attendance were given the chance to write their comments on the different options. While many were supportive of further parkway removal, some did not like possible access to residential neighborhoods, wondering where the traffic the parkways support would go, wanting more parking options on the road, better access to the I-190, and wanting increased speed limits.

This phase was allocated $1.5 million from the Niagara River Greenway Fund Standing Committee for scoping work, led by Colliers Engineering & Design. Other partner agencies include the USA Niagara Development Corporation, Empire State Development, the New York Power Authority, the state Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.

Beyond these initial renderings, Mistretta said the planners would further look at different project aspects like the traffic numbers and environmental analysis before coming back to the public with how they want to proceed. More public outreach meetings would be planned.

Mistretta said it would not be until mid-2025 that State Parks has an idea of which option to go with. They would also figure out how much the reconstruction costs are by then.