The Buffalo Bills are in desperate need of a new stadium. This is a truth that is evident to just about anyone who pays attention to the team. Where that new stadium should be built has been a hot topic amongst that same group who sees the writing on the aging walls of the Ralph.
The Outer Harbor – a destination many Buffalonians would love to see – is the location for an incredibly ambitious and somewhat improbable proposal pitched by a new group today. One thing that didn’t seem to be fully considered with this project is the inevitable infrastructure issues that will accompany it.
The proposal that includes a stadium, convention center, hotel, retail and 5,000 parking spots for a low, low price of $1.4 billion doesn’t really accommodate for the 72,000 fans that will be coming down ten days a year.
While the Outer Harbor has plenty of space to accommodate surface parking, the park going crowds would certainly take issue with the idea of swaths of pavement being laid down throughout the Outer Harbor. Of course, that is probably the only feasible option regardless of any solution that would be brought forward.
Parking isn’t even the most concerning portion of this, however. At the end of the day the lots will take care of themselves. There is space to provide surface parking that won’t impact current and any future development out that way. Parking ramps are always an option as well, especially those with ground-level retail to complement the proposed retail portion of this project.
Based on the renderings, the Skyway and Route 5 will be the primary arteries to funnel cars to the area with surface streets like Ohio St., Tift, and Ridge also connecting directly to Route 5 and Furhman Blvd. Yet, Furhman is a two-lane boulevard that would be more than overwhelmed with the type of traffic that accompanies a Bills game. The last thing Buffalo wants is to have a two-lane road leading to their stadium. It is exactly what people complain about in Foxboro. Traffic in Orchard Park is tough enough to handle on gamedays and Abbot, Southwestern and 20A are all four-lanes wide (20A is two lanes but the shoulders serve as lanes on gameday). If the traffic in OP is rough, multiply it by ten on the Outer Harbor.
For any stadium project to survive on the Outer Harbor there would need to be far more access for fans to get down to that area.
A start would be to build the harbor bridge that has been on the table for the last few years. In fact, a stadium would probably necessitate bridges at both Michigan Ave and Main St. Those would not only provide backside access, it would connect the area directly to downtown.
Knocking down the Skyway would probably be necessary but wouldn’t necessarily be a detraction considering it only would give access to those coming south on the 190. What would be necessary would be an off-ramp for north and southbound cars that would connect directly to Michigan Ave. Unrealistic? Yes. But it would connect those on the Thruway directly to one of the main arteries to the stadium.
Another necessary addition would be light rail. An extension of the light rail to the Outer Harbor and the stadium would serve much like the Rapid does in Cleveland. The subway system in Buffalo’s rust-belt neighbor drops fans off at the front door of Browns Stadium. Working in an extension of the light rail at Main St. would provide a necessary mass transit option for anyone choosing to park in a lot or ramp downtown, or for those coming from further north up the line.
Even with light rail and a pair of bridges, traffic will still be rolling through on surface streets which are primarily two-lanes wide. That will still create a massive bottleneck and will be quite a headache on gamedays. The one benefit of The Ralph is that a highway brings the majority of fans to one of many four-lane streets and to the various parking areas for the stadium. You can reach the Ralph from any direction via the 219 or surface streets and the traffic is difficult, but not a complete nightmare.
Determining a feasible solution to the infrastructure problems that would accompany this stadium may be just as vital as the hoops that need to be jumped through at the City, County, State and NFL levels in terms of funding.
(Chris Ostrander is the publisher of “Two In the Box”—a well written blog covering the Buffalo Bills, Sabres, Bandits, UB as well as other sports teams and items locally. He’s also a contributor for Buffalo Sports Daily and other blogs that cover Buffalo sports. You can check out all his articles by clicking the logo below.)