I. Environmental Review Process

The comment period on the Draft Design Report/Environmental Assessment (EA) is open through November 10, 2023. The New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) and Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will consider the comments received during the comment period, as well as those received throughout the environmental review process, as part of the overall decision-making process for the Project. New and substantive comments will be responded to in the Final Design Report/EA. The Final Design Report/EA will include necessary revisions in response to new and substantive comments received.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) will conclude that either the Build Alternative will not result in significant impacts or that an Environmental Impact Statement is required. If it is determined that the Build Alternative will not result in significant impacts and the FHWA and NYSDOT approve the project design, then the Project may proceed to final design and construction.

Per federal regulation, an Environmental Assessment (EA) is prepared when a project is not likely to have significant effects or when the significance of the effects is unknown. It concludes with either a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) or determination that an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is required. An EIS is prepared when a project is likely to have significant impacts. It concludes with a Record of Decision (ROD).

The FHWA and NYSDOT determined that the preparation of an EA was appropriate for the Kensington Expressway Project based on the above definition. However, this EA determination did not dictate the level of analyses or public engagement that have been conducted for the Project. The traffic, social, economic, and environmental analyses that have been conducted for the Project would not differ if an EIS were prepared. For example, the air quality analysis that has been conducted for the Project would not be any different if an EIS were prepared. This level of analyses was needed in order to determine the effects of the Project, mitigation measures, and whether any adverse effects would be significant. The agency, public, and stakeholder engagement has been tailored to the Project and was not based on what level of environmental documentation was being prepared.

II. Project Scope, Limits and Alternatives

Slightly greater than ¾ of a mile (4,150 feet) – from Dodge Street to Sidney Street.

Every transportation project must have project limits. The project limits are also referred to as “logical termini.” The limits are determined based on project cost and available funding, engineering constraints, environmental effects, traffic effects, and/or other factors.

For the Kensington Expressway Project, the project limits are Best Street and Sidney Street. The northern limit was extended 600 feet during the project scoping process in response to public input. These limits were selected to include the areas where NYS Route 33 is already depressed (reducing the cost and complexity of building a tunnel), provide connectivity with existing parkland and community resources, and factor in engineering and environmental constraints, such as the location of Scajaquada Creek and the NYS Route 33/NYS Route 198 interchange.

The Project has been and will continue to be designed to not preclude a future extension of the tunnel as part of a separate, independent project. However, an extension of the tunnel beyond the project limits is not part of the scope of this Project.

The removal or filling in of the Kensington Expressway was assessed, including consideration of traffic shifts predicted by a regional traffic model. However, the expressway cannot be removed or filled in due to the issues related to diverting the 75,000 daily trucks and cars that currently use the expressway to local streets and other key roadways. These issues include the following:

  • Safety (diverting traffic onto radial streets would result in higher crash rates on local streets with intersections compared to retaining the expressway);
  • Increased crash rates with pedestrians and bicyclists due to their exposure to increased traffic on local streets;
  • Conflict with potential Complete Streets/road diet improvements to radial streets undertaken by the City of Buffalo to increase nonmotorized accessibility and safety;
  • Increased emergency vehicle response times and decreased access to hospitals;
  • Increased emissions of air pollutants near homes and community facilities, because “stop and go” traffic on local streets produces more pollutants than continuously moving traffic;
  • Travel time reliability for those commuting through the area; and
  • Exceeding the capacity of key roadways, such as I-190, I-90, and City of Buffalo arterial streets, resulting in traffic congestion and safety issues in other parts of the city or requiring widening/expansion that could have social/environmental effects.

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA), the only organization with the authority to propose mass transit projects, is not currently proposing rail service in the transportation corridor. The Project has been and will continue to be designed to not preclude potential future light rail projects, but these would be separate, independent projects.

III. Schedule, Cost, Funding and Maintenance

Construction is expected to start in 2024 and last for three to four years (completion in 2028).

The construction cost estimate for the Build Alternative is approximately $1 billion.

A combination of state and federal transportation funding sources have been identified.

The Project would be funded by Federal and State transportation funds. Transportation funds are specifically designated for transportation projects and cannot be used towards non-transportation-related purposes, such as improvements to infrastructure (e.g., water and sewer systems), housing, food access, health facilities, etc. The Project does not and would not preclude independent actions by other agencies or community groups to provide additional direct investment and help address other community concerns.

NYS Route 33 and the tunnel related infrastructure would be maintained by NYSDOT. Local streets such as Humboldt Parkway and Best Street would remain in the City of Buffalo’s maintenance jurisdiction, meaning the City is responsible for the maintenance of these roadways. The new greenspace on the tunnel cap is anticipated to be maintained by the City; this will be formalized through a maintenance agreement between NYSDOT and the City.

IV. Construction Effects and Mitigation

Temporary effects on air quality during construction would include emissions from construction equipment and trucks as well as dust produced by construction activities. Measures proposed to minimize air quality effects during construction include:

  • Implement an outdoor air quality monitoring program during construction.
  • Real-time particulate monitoring at numerous locations, including:
    • Publicly accessible results;
    • Required operational changes if levels approach what is allowable within 24 hours;
    • If levels exceed the allowable standard, suspension of applicable construction activities until issues are identified and corrected.
  • Require the construction contractor for the Project to use lower emission equipment.
  • Require the construction contractor for the Project to prepare and implement a Dust Control Plan.
  • Limit idling time for diesel-powered equipment to three consecutive minutes to limit air pollution.

Although no damage from excavation and blasting is expected, any unanticipated damage to buildings or utilities would be repaired by the construction contractor. This commitment to repairs would be formalized in the contract between NYSDOT and the construction contractor.

Pre- and post-construction surveys of building conditions would be conducted within a survey area of up to approximately 300 feet from the Project site. This estimated distance for the surveys would be refined during final design, as appropriate.

In addition, a Construction Vibration Mitigation Plan would be developed during final design that would include:

  • A communication and public outreach plan throughout the construction period;
  • Blasting program designed to avoid the potential for damage to structures;
  • Require test blasts, prior to construction blasting;
  • Require vibration and noise monitoring per the blasting program.
    • If at any time it is determined that vibration and/or noise levels are unacceptable, the problematic construction operations would be suspended until a plan to mitigate the vibration issues has been approved by NYSDOT.

At least two lanes in each direction on the Kensington Expressway within the project limits would be maintained during peak hours. One lane in each direction would remain open throughout the construction of Humboldt Parkway.

There would be temporary closures of Dodge Street and East Utica Street. Temporary bridges would be used to maintain east-west connections at Northampton Street and East Ferry Street throughout construction. Additional temporary pedestrian/bicycle only bridges would be constructed to ensure that crossings are no more than 1,300 feet apart.

The construction contractor would be required to prepare detailed work zone traffic control plans consistent with the construction traffic commitments made in the Environmental Assessment.

The Project would involve the removal of bedrock through mechanical excavation or blasting to achieve the final lowered Kensington Expressway profile for the proposed tunnel. However, rock removal would not be required in all portions of the corridor and the depth of rock removal required varies as shown in the rock removal plan graphic below. Rock removal depths of less than five feet would generally be removed through mechanical means, while deeper rock removal would be accomplished with controlled blasting.

  • Shallow rock removal of less than five feet would be required between 400 feet south of Best Street to Dodge Street;
  • Rock removal would not be required for the approximately 1,600 foot length between Dodge Street and just south of Landon Street;
  • Shallow rock removal of less than five feet would be required between approximately Landon Street and East Utica Street;
  • Rock removal of greater than five feet would be required from East Utica Street to 50 feet north of Brunswick Boulevard. The average depth of rock removal in this area would be approximately 9 to 10 feet. The deepest rock removal would be approximately 17 feet near the Sidney Street tunnel portal;
  • Shallow rock removal of less than five feet would be required from north of Brunswick Boulevard to just past Hamlin Road.

Extensive studies of subsurface conditions have included both ground-penetrating radar and traditional soil borings with a drill rig. This information helps NYSDOT understand the depth of bedrock and locations of features such as Scajaquada drain. Historical maps and soil borings were also reviewed, in addition to existing plans for utilities.

NYSDOT investigated the location of the nearest fault line relative to the Project. The nearest fault line is called the Clarendon-Linden Fault System and is located 36 miles away in Batavia, NY. This fault line runs from Lake Ontario to Rushford Lake, through Genesee and Wyoming counties. This Project, including blasting, would not affect this fault line.

V. Air Quality

Vehicle exhaust fumes would be pushed out of the tunnel via the piston effect from moving vehicles. The aerodynamics of cars exiting a tunnel portal would form a “positive” air pressure that would push the air out of the tunnel, while cars entering a tunnel portal would form a “negative” air pressure that would pull fresh air into the tunnel. Combined, these two flows of pressure form what is called the piston effect.

Under normal operations, the use of jet fans would not be needed, meaning that they would only be turned on in rare occasions. Air quality sensors within the tunnel would be installed to identify such an occasion (such as a breakdown in traffic flow). In cases like this, the sensors would automatically turn on the jet fans to increase air flow through the tunnel, which would draw in fresh air from the entrance portal, dilute the concentration of exhaust fumes, and carry the diluted exhaust fumes to the exit portals where they could disperse into the atmosphere. When normal operating conditions resume, the jet fans would automatically be turned off.

The air quality analyses for the Project were conducted using state of the art models developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and in accordance with relevant federal and state procedures. The methodology was developed in coordination with an interagency air quality working group that included the NYSDOT, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the USEPA, and the Federal Highway Administration. The air quality analysis methodology was developed based on conservative assumptions that over predict rather than under predict pollutant concentrations. For example, the analysis did not account for the anticipated substantial increase in adoption of electric vehicles.

The air quality analyses for the Project showed that the Build Alternative would result in slight decreases in concentrations of particulate matter along the tunnel cap area and slight increases in concentrations near the tunnel portals. Even the highest concentrations near the portals are well below health-based federal standards. Out of the 2,833 modeling locations included in the analysis, 990 had a concentration decrease of 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter or greater between the No Build and Build Alternatives, and 315 had an increase of 0.1 micrograms per cubic meter or greater between the No Build and Build Alternatives in year 2027. The remaining 1,528 modeling locations had a No Build to Build Alternative change of less than 0.1 micrograms/cubic meter.

Minimization/mitigation commitments near the tunnel portals include interior tunnel washing to control dust; planting trees and vegetative buffers; use of the longitudinal ventilation system to dilute and disperse pollutants; air diversion slots in tunnel ceiling near portals; and wall treatments to remove air pollutants.

Above ground infrastructure, such as the large buildings with exhaust stacks that were shown at the June 2022 scoping meeting, are not required and are not proposed as part of the Project.

The need for air treatment was evaluated during the preparation of the Environmental Assessment. Based on the air quality analysis results and the project design, air treatment is not necessary or warranted. Pollutant concentrations under the Build Alternative in the areas near the tunnel portals would remain well below the health-based federal standards.

Air quality concentrations would further decline over time as older vehicles, which produce greater emissions, are removed from the overall fleet of vehicles traveling on NYS Route 33 every year.

VI. Greenspace on the Tunnel Cap

A minimum of 3 feet of soil depth would be provided on the tunnel cap, which would allow for mature trees up to 50 feet in height.

Tree species that can grow to 50 feet high with a 50-foot-wide canopy were selected based on their root systems, their ultimate (mature) size, growth habit, and ability to grow in urban conditions. Tree selection details would continue to be refined during final design taking into consideration the input of the City of Buffalo and Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. The species recommended for the Humboldt Parkway median are Bosque Lacebark Elm, Heritage English Oak, and Village Green Zelkova. Additional species are recommended for areas outside the median.

VII. Right-of-Way Acquisition

No residences or businesses would be acquired for the Project.

Small areas of land (in most cases, land already adjacent to the existing roadway) would need to be acquired for construction of roadway features such as the roundabout, tunnel walls, roadway widening, sidewalks, curb ramps, water services, and traffic signal infrastructure. The majority of the areas to be acquired range from 0.0004 to 0.0157 acres in size (17 sq. ft. to 683 sq. ft.). Several temporary easements (short term leases) for water line replacements would also be needed. These acquisitions and temporary easements would be conducted in accordance with State procedures.

Humboldt Parkway would be reconstructed with a 90-foot-wide landscaped median on top of the tunnel. As part of the reconstruction, Humboldt Parkway would be shifted approximately 16 feet further from the adjoining residences, creating additional front yard space. See the image below for the typical section. Street trees would be planted in between the sidewalk and Humboldt Parkway.

VIII. Workforce Development/Local Hire

The Project includes a local hire program commitment to encourage the training and hiring of local residents for construction and construction-related employment opportunities. NYSDOT will partner with local community organizations, unions, and political leaders to develop a program for local hiring and for contracting women- and minority-owned businesses.

  • In coordination with FHWA, NYSDOT will include a local hiring preference in the contract documents for the Kensington Expressway Project to encourage local hires for the contracts.
  • NYSDOT will advertise training programs and construction employment opportunities at public meetings and the Project outreach center.
  • NYSDOT will monitor the local hiring metrics throughout the Project and conduct regular meetings with partnering agencies to discuss progress and any steps to modify the initiatives.

IX. Environmental Justice

The communities adjacent to the Kensington Expressway largely consist of low income and/or minority (environmental justice) populations. The effects of the Project on these populations were assessed. The Build Alternative would have long-term beneficial effects on environmental justice populations from improved east-west connectivity, greenspace, aesthetics, noise reductions, and pedestrian accommodations, among others. Temporary construction effects related to transportation, noise, vibration, and air quality would be minimized through Project commitments. Overall, the Build Alternative would have no disproportionately high and adverse effects on environmental justice populations.

The public engagement plan for this Project was developed and is being implemented to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement and participation by environmental justice populations in the transportation decision-making process for the Project. Ongoing engagement activities conducted by NYSDOT for this Project have included establishing a staffed project outreach office in the project area, holding regular monthly stakeholder meetings to receive input from community groups and organizations, attending community events, and holding formal public meetings.

X. Indirect Effects

Property values could be affected by the Project. However, it is difficult to accurately predict these effects since property values are also affected by other factors, including external characteristics (such “curb appeal,” home condition, lot size); internal characteristics (such as size and number of rooms, construction quality, energy efficiency); supply and demand; and location characteristics (such as desirability of particular school district).

Ultimately, the administration of property assessment and taxation is under the authority of the City of Buffalo. Furthermore, potential increases in property values could be offset by Project benefits, such as an increased tax base and local spending.