By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — When it was dedicated 50 years ago, the Moses Parkway was described as a kind of gift to a community that had endured the disruption for construction of the $720 million Niagara Power Project. It turned out to be a gift that was seldom if ever appreciated.
As a sort of compensation for that upheaval — relocating homes, rebuilding roads and bridges, and generally intruding on the quality of life — Robert Moses, the “master builder” and then chairman of the New York Power Authority, spearheaded a massive public works program that included a scenic parkway that would parallel the Niagara River, from the North Grand Island Bridge to Lake Road (Route 18) near Youngstown.
The Moses Parkway was originally designed to link the Niagara Expressway (1-190) and the North Grand Island Bridges with Lake Road (Route 18) and the Lake Ontario Parkway to Rochester. That plan never became reality because, as it was explained at the time, the state simply ran out of funds for such an ambitious project.
Instead, the parkway named for Moses, was limited to 22 miles from the Grand Island spans to Lake Road in Porter. Even that stretch, along the upper Niagara River and through the state park to Lewiston and Youngstown, was severed in the late 1970s when local government and tourist industry leaders contended the contiguous roadway carried most tourist traffic in and out of the state park, bypassing the South End of Niagara Falls. To compound matters, the parkway section in Prospect Park included a westbound ramp that led directly to Canada-bound lanes on the Rainbow Bridge.
When the first section of the parkway — from those North Grand Island Bridges to the nation’s oldest state park — was completed in the early 1960s, it wiped out Riverway, the heavily-traveled street parallel to the park, and landmark buildings like the old Gorge Terminal, a theater, and the Moose Tower Hotel. Originally designated the Niagara Parkway, it was renamed for Moses on June 28. 1963.
Nearly 35 years ago, while reflecting on the birth of the controversial route, Moses said, “The power authority built the best parkway and related improvements under the Federal Power Commission license, within the dollar limit stipulated in the license.”
It seemed then, as it still does, that many local residents and even some civic leaders never fully understood what Moses had in mind. That created confusion as well as misinformation.
At a Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum in the summer of 1978, one speaker mentioned that Moses was disappointed over the route the parkway followed through the heart of Prospect Park, what was then called the Niagara Reservation. The speaker contended that Moses wanted the parkway to be tunneled in that section.
“That’s news to me,” Moses said a few days later, “that I was less than happy with the parkway (route).”
The former Power Authority chairman, who wore about a dozen hats during his public career, conceded that some consideration was given to lowering the grade as the roadway as it passed through Prospect Park, but it never got beyond the discussion stage.
In the early days, there were as many ridiculous statements about the parkway — the pros and cons —as there are today from self-proclaimed experts who think they have all the answers. In the end, of course, the endless studies, the scoping sessions, and the public input could prove an exercise in futility, especially in a state struggling with a $1-billion deficit.
More than 23 years ago, a highly paid private consultant cautioned that “access to the gorge was key.” Neil Dean of Saski Associates said, “We have the makings of a great (state) park, but we have the problem of access.”
Even then, amidst all the tumult and shouting, every discussion about removing the parkway seemed to focus on replacing parts of it or redesigning it. Among the plans stressed was new intersections with city streets every 300 to 500 feet, traffic signals, and a 30-mile-per-hour speed limit. Today there’s a 40 mph-limit in the restricted area between the City of Niagara Falls and a point just north of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. It is common knowledge, however, that with the infrequent presence of state police patrols, most motorists drive upwards of 60-65 mph.ON THE MOSES PARKWAY The Gazette is taking a comprehensive look at issues surrounding the Robert Moses Parkway and its future. The series so far: • TODAY: History of the parkway's development Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246