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Ohio Street Improvements: Better Plan, Questionable Process

A hearing in federal court this week put environmentalists in an odd position, arguing against a proposition to redo Ohio Street from Michigan Avenue to the Ohio Street bridge as a pedestrian-friendly 35-miles-per-hour urban arterial, instead of a 50-miles-per-hour truck route, which had been the plan.

Well, not so much against the proposition as the way the new plan was arrived at, which was “in private,” according to Richard G. Berger, attorney for Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and a host of other environmental-minded groups in a case that goes back to 2006, when the truck route plan was approved following full environmental review and the production of an environmental impact statement.

The change in the plan “came as a surprise,” Berger said. “Nobody knew anything about it.” Apparently, the decision was made by the State Department of Transportation, following their re-evaluation that considered changes in the meantime along the Ohio Street segment, including the creation of the Buffalo River Fest Park.

Berger said he attended an information meeting in the First Ward recently at which the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corporation outlined the present plan, which Berger said apparently is already underway, at an expected cost of $11 million. “But we don’t even know how the ECHDC got that money, who gave it to the” he said.

Berger and fellow environmental attorney Richard Lippes argued that this is a completely different plan from the one approved in 2006, and there are many unexplored environmental questions that ultimately require a new EIS. “We haven’t even seen the design documents for the new plan,” Lippes said.

Federal Judge William M. Skretny put the matter off for a month. He asked Assistant US Attorney Mary K. Roach, representing the Federal Highway Agency in the matter, if she could get Berger and Lippes the relevant documents. She said she would do what she could after consulting with her clients.

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