February 16, 2024
Albany, NY

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Announces Advancement of Historic Kensington Expressway Project to Reconnect East Buffalo Communities

Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Announces Advancement of Historic Kensington Expressway Project to Reconnect East Buffalo Communities

Governor Hochul: “I'm proud today to announce that the Kensington Expressway project has been officially given the green light by the Federal Government in a critically important step. Thank you. Thank you. And the Federal Government is not easy to get through. I just want to tell you this. They found no significant impact, which means the environmental review process, which was long, intense and comprehensive – that is now over. And ladies and gentlemen, this project can go now full steam ahead and we're going to start construction later this year, start construction, shovels in the ground.”

Hochul: “I never gave up on this community, our elected officials never gave up. But people from the outside would look and say, wow, there was such a rich history here. Where are they today? And they're going to look back someday at this moment in time and say, this is when we seized our destiny and said, we're going to make things happen.”

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a major milestone in the transformative Kensington Expressway Project, which will reconnect neighborhoods within East Buffalo that have been divided for generations, while providing much-needed greenspace and a new vibrancy to the entire community. The Federal Highway Administration has issued a “Finding of No Significant Impact,” a key development that signals the end of the formal environmental assessment process and clears the way for the New York State Department of Transportation to advance to the final design stages and begin construction by the fall of 2024. Additionally, at the direction of Governor Hochul, the State Department of Transportation will commence a study this year on additional potential enhancements to further reconnect the community, all the way up to the Scajaquada Expressway and Delaware Park, including a new vision for a reimagined Humboldt Parkway. Building on the hundreds of public engagements ahead of this project, the State Department of Transportation will continue to engage with community members and listen to their concerns to ensure the best outcome for the corridor and the residents who call it home.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format.

AUDIO of the Governor's remarks is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor's remarks is available below:

 Thank you everyone. Thank you so much. It is such a joy to be here without snow on the ground. I was just sharing thoughts with Mayor Brown and County Executive Poloncarz, and our Commissioner of DOT about our last journey here, when not only were we fighting Mother Nature and fighting the snow, we were fighting to make sure that the Buffalo Bills played that playoff game in Buffalo.

We have been through a lot together and, this is my hometown and the east side of Buffalo – east Buffalo has always mattered to me and the people who live here have been through a great deal. And indeed today, many are still dealing with the psychological trauma of having been victimized by a shooter who changed our City forever, and it was the worst mass shooting in our State history, and we are still healing from that experience.

One thing I know about this community, it is steeped in hope and optimism. And that's why so many people have stayed and fought for this community because they care so deeply about it. And people harden their resolve, and they don't just, they don't just survive, they thrive. And as the first Governor born in Buffalo, I have worked really hard for this community too, because I know it matters, and I know what it feels like to feel like you've been overlooked for too long.

That is a part of the psyche of someone coming from Western New York that other places mattered more. It was always another part of our State that got more attention. And I've been laser focused for the last two and a half years on changing that trajectory and I fought hard. And even after the shooting, we came here with the Mayor, the County Executive, Crystal People-Stokes, Tim Kennedy, all of our leaders.

We came together and said, we have to bring more resource. We brought $50 million to help people pay their bills and to keep small businesses alive, and to even bring people healthy food at a time when their grocery store was shut down. We also knew that there's places like the Broadway Market that are so fascinating and exciting, but it should not just be the days leading up to Easter. It should be year. This is an asset. This is a cultural asset for us, so we awarded $10 million to this part of our city for that community to be lifted up.

We also awarded $55 million to do even more at the Northland Corridor, the third phase of work there, because we're just getting started. $37 million, as I said, for the Broadway Market. And $30 million for the Michigan Street African American corridor because I say it's about time – about time we celebrate our history. And the McCarley Gardens, oh my gosh, it's going to be extraordinary new homes for 149 families – a massive renovation we just announced. We are tackling an even bigger project at the Ellicott Town Center, $71 million to preserve 281 homes. And yesterday we announced $10 million for the Buffalo Sewer authority. And also, we're going to build an underground tunnel. Now, those of you who don't get really excited about infrastructure the way I do, 14 years and look an underground tunnel that contains storm water and prevents flooding around Scajaquada Creek and so that's what we're focusing on as well.

We also announced yesterday, the Mayor's office announced that the Perry Street projects that have been mocking this part of our community for decades, that when people come to visit and their first impression is what was an eyesore. And as those of us who are locals – saw this all the time, only partially occupied. I rode my bike around there all the time looking at the broken windows and the blight saying, “No, we can do better.” We are going to transform that into a vibrant 24/7 community. And I thank the Mayor and the Buffalo Housing Authority for all the others and $205 million of State resources to make that happen.

My friends, this City is being transformed. It's all happening now. My question is not one to ever rest on our laurels, our accomplishments of yesterday's announcements. How do we seize this momentum and take it to the next level? My view is sometimes you can't carve out a better future until you right the wrongs of the past, and that's exactly what we're doing with the Kensington Expressway project.

Two years ago, in my very first Executive Budget, I laid out not my vision, but the vision of a community, championed by Crystal Peoples-Stokes, who brought it to my attention, and she says, “There have been people fighting for this since the 1970s, but truly in earnest for the last 15 years. Can we look at this? Can we look at a strategy that can transform this part of our City and make Frederick Law Olmsted finally proud of what has happened under his watch, back a century ago.” I said, yes. My philosophy has always been, “Go big or go home,” and I'm never going home except to Buffalo. So, $1 billion announced for a bold grassroots plan driven by the dedicated people of this community, people who never gave up hope.

And many of you are here today and I want to thank all of you for what you've done. It's been extraordinary and I want to, first of all, thank someone who's here in spirit. Who's here in spirit because I can feel Stephanie. I can still feel Stephanie Barber-Geter. I can feel her presence here. And Edwin, I want her husband Edwin to stand up because you have been on this journey together.

And I thank all the members of ROCC. First of all, let's just give all of you a round applause. Please stand up if you've been on this journey together. All the members of this great organization, thank you.

I also want to acknowledge, I'll be introducing her in a moment, but Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes. Thank you for being the voice of this community – not just here, but in the halls of Albany when it really makes a difference. So, let's give her a round of applause as well.

Our State Senator, Tim Kennedy, who's been out there championing this community with all his heart and soul, a great friend of ours, Tim Kennedy. County Executive Mark Poloncarz has joined us. County Executive, thank you for believing in East Buffalo. Thank you. As I mentioned, Mayor Byron Brown. Thank you, Byron Brown for pushing this forward. County Legislative Chair, April Baskin has joined us. Congratulations.

Our District Attorney, John Flynn, has joined us as well. Thank you for many years of service. Monica Wallace has joined us from the Assembly. Karen McMahon has joined us. Thank you for representing this area so well. All the members of the city council, and also, extraordinary members from my administration.

I've battled the DOT my entire life. I want you to know that when I was a member of the Hamburg Town Board, I was fighting the Thruway Authority over the tolls. I was telling the DOT, “No, you're not going to build that road through J.P. Fitzgerald's because that's my cheers in Hamburg.” And I went down there, and I fought them. And I fought them nonstop. And now if you go over to see J.P. Fitzgerald’s in Hamburg. Yes, and you wonder why the road curves like that because I went to war with the DOT, and we won.

But here's the good news. Under the leadership of my Commissioner, Marie Therese Dominguez, you don't have to have that battle because she is on your side. She is on your side, and I want her to please stand up. I can't tell you how many people come up to me all over the State and say, “Is this really the DOT? They're actually nice and they're working with us. They're not saying no all the time.” So, thank you for restoring people's faith in government. Thank you.

Another fighter on my team, our DEC Commissioner, Basil Seggos, has joined us here. Thank you for all you do. Great announcements yesterday. Thank you.

Someone who needs no introduction here in Buffalo. Our former Comptroller, former Assemblyman, and now current DMV Commissioner, Mark Schroeder has joined us. Sydney Brown has joined us as well. Let's give her another round of applause. We'll be hearing from Sydney. Sydney Brown.

Also, our announcement hinges on support from the Biden administration. The Biden administration represented by Richard Marquis, the US DOT, Federal Highway Division Administrator. Please stand up and take a bow. Thank you.

And all of our brothers and sisters in labor would looking forward to 13,000 good-paying jobs. Paul Brown and all you members of labor, please stand up. Thank you. Nobody builds it like you do, so thank you. I'm so proud.

I'll say it's been a long road. It's literally a long road. The DOT has hosted over 70 meetings, 70 in-person meetings with the people of this community to listen and let those ideas shape where we are here to why we are here today. And let me tell you, it all worked out.

Just last March, I was here with Senator Kennedy, Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, and others, the Mayor. We sat here with federal representation. Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg came here to Buffalo, and he told me that East Buffalo is going to be just one of six cities in the entire country that are getting federal funds and our request to stitch together neighborhoods that have been severed and torn apart by the racist urban development policies of the last century. He said, “It's time to heal the wounds of the past,” and we could not agree more. So, I thank the Biden administration for their $55 million – let me repeat that – $55 million from the Biden administration to support this project right here. It's the largest award of its kind in the Nation.

As I mentioned, back in the 1950’s and 60’s, people in power built these cavernous superhighways. They didn't care where they went – from New York City up to Niagara Falls and Rochester and Syracuse and Buffalo. It was all about moving people out of our urban core. It was about white flight. And it transformed communities like Amherst and Clarence, God bless them. But a lot of that transformation should have happened right here. It's right here.

Hundreds and hundreds of lives are uprooted, and businesses destroyed, all in the name of this quicker route to the suburbs. That's what we're dealing with today. And they actually chose neighborhoods where people did not have the political clout to fight back. They were easy prey. They were not elected officials in City Hall, City Council, the County Legislature.

Oh, that would not happen today. But this is what happened years ago. These are places that were viewed as disposable. Who cares? But as I said, we saw it in Syracuse and right today we are fixing it with the transformation of the I-81 corridor, fixing it. We saw it in Rochester, the Inner Loop. We're fixing Rochester as well. And now we are laser-focused on sewing back together the wonderful tapestry known as East Buffalo. And I could not be prouder.

I'm proud today to announce that the Kensington Expressway project has been officially given the green light by the Federal Government in a critically important step. Thank you. Thank you. And the Federal Government is not easy to get through. I just want to tell you this. They found no significant impact, which means the environmental review process, which was long, intense and comprehensive – that is now over. And ladies and gentlemen, this project can go now full steam ahead and we're going to start construction later this year, start construction, shovels in the ground.

So, we'll work on the cap section of the 33 between Dodge and Sidney, construct a six-lane tunnel beneath to keep the traffic flowing. Again, we're just going in the same direction, but what's going to happen to this community is going to be extraordinary, and we're going to bring back all that amazing green space you saw in the video, it's coming back, places people can congregate. Let the trees grow, let the grass grow, let the kids be able to play. All that was robbed from this community years ago.

We're going to be building it on 11 acres. And for all of our football fans, that's the equivalent of eight football fields right here, now brought back for this community. We heard your calls. We listened. We know you wanted upgrades to local streets on both sides of the 33. So, we folded them into the project. We said, yes. That was not a no, that was a yes. We also said we're willing to fix up nine miles of local roads. Projects that would not have happened, will not happen but for this happening. That means resurfacing, replacing crumbling sidewalks, the curbs, improving the signage. Planting lots and lots of trees. I said we're going to plant 25 million trees over the next decade, and I'm going to start right here.

Improvements for our pedestrians, better sidewalks, handicap accessibility, and as I mentioned, construction beginning this year. Can I promise that Commissioner? Starting right this year? So, one thing I want you to know as you continue to listen, I've also directed our Commissioner in the DOT to study future phases of this project. So, this does not end just here. I want to reconnect communities further north, but this will all be done in collaboration with the community, and that's why we have a DOT Outreach Center at 630 Humboldt Parkway. It's going to be staffed. You'll be able to drop in and – you going to be sitting there Commissioner? You got others? Okay, come say hi to the Commissioner.

Now, I also know there are a handful of naysayers out there. Okay? Not surprising. It happens elsewhere. It seems to happen with a lot of intensity here in Western New York. I get it. I get it. And there are people want us to scrap the plan and start all over. Take us back to the very beginning, back to the 1970’s perhaps, and maybe there'll be some other group when all of us have passed on that'll carry the baton some day in some future. My friends, the stars have lined up, the stars have lined up right now. When you have the cloud – you have the Biden administration in office today, right now, making this happen. You have my administration right now making this happen. You have Crystal People-Stokes as the Majority Leader right now making this happen. Senator Tim Kennedy, the Chair of the Transportation Committee, making this happen. I don't know a better time in our lifetime to make this happen. I say, let's do it right now. Let's do it now because there comes a time in life when you just have to go forward. You just have to say yes instead of saying no, and that's exactly what we're doing. And I have people here fought too long and fought too hard. Fought too long and fought too hard.

And I'm going to go out on a limb here – my staff gets nervous when I'm always wandering off script, but that's okay, it's who I am. When I moved back here from Washington in 1991, we were told that we were going to see this beautiful new structure connect Canada and Buffalo. That this deteriorating, not exactly beautiful bridge was going to come down.

We had a potential for a signature bridge, or twin bridges, or something that speaks to the pride we have in our community. A monument to our own ambition like other cities have done because bridges are also statements.

1991 was a long time ago. My kids were toddlers; they now have their own kids. That's what happens when you get agitated voices who have clout and say, we need more studies and we got to worry about the birds and the fish. And yes we do, I love birds and fish, but I was pretty convinced that they'd be able to figure out how to go over the bridge, okay? Because they want to survive as well.

So we kill too many projects. And Crystal Peoples-Stokes nailed it when she said, “It's paralysis by analysis,” right? You can study everything to death, and we're going to do the right thing. We'll always do what's right. I've got the DEC commissioner sitting here. He's protecting the environment. He's not going to let anything happen to this community. In fact, we're going to make it better. It's getting better for people: healthier, safer, cleaner.

And some will say, well it turned out we didn't need the Peace Bridge after all because traffic is down. You know why traffic is down? They all went to Detroit instead. Okay, did anybody figure that one out? They should be here. They wanted this to happen. We lost this opportunity. That meant jobs and opportunities went somewhere else, with another State because we did not act. I will not be the Governor of a State who refuses to be aggressive, bold, transformative, and finally, once and for all, make things happen. I'm doing that right here with this project right now. Thank you. Thank you.

So, I'm not saying this is a cure-all for this side of our City, I am not saying this is everything, but let this be a foundation for a larger vision. Let people know they matter to us, that their families have value, their homes have value, their children have value and we want their kids to live here.

So that's what we're doing. We're building a physical link between housing and small businesses and job training and parks and culture – it's going to be extraordinary, and these are all the essential elements we need to bring hope back to this community.

And this community never gave up on itself, I never gave up on this community, our elected officials never gave up. But people from the outside would look and say, wow, there was such a rich history here. Where are they today? And they're going to look back someday at this moment in time and say, this is when we seized our destiny and said, we're going to make things happen.

I want people to be proud of their neighborhood. I want them to walk with that swagger, that sense of pride that you get, not just from changing the physical character of a place and changing roads and bridges, but also, it's a sense that we are important enough to have projects like this in our neighborhood and it changes psychology of a community.

So, this is more than transportation. This is more than transportation. We're writing a brand new chapter so 50-100 years from now people say, yes, they were bold, they got it done. We reunited a community that never should have been severed in the first place and we got it done together.

And I want to thank people, I want to thank the people who never gave up. And I want to thank someone who is a fighter to her core. Someone who's always said we can do better. And who got my ear because we've been friends a long time, long time. Ladies and gentlemen, let me present to you our Majority Leader, Crystal Peoples-Stokes, to tell you how she got it done.

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