Crash at Delaware Park prompted major changes to 198, more still ahead

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- The final Jersey barrier was removed from Delaware Park, along Ring Rd., last week.

When tragedy struck at the park n May 30, 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo immediately dropped the speed limit from 50 miles per hour to 30 miles per hour and the Jersey barriers were put in place.

A tribute to Maksym Sugorovskiy quickly grew.

Three year old Maksym was walking in the park with his five year old sister Stephanie, and their mother Mary, when a car went off the 198 and hit the family.

Maksym died from his injuries, his sister Stephanie suffered a head injury and two broken legs. She spent months in the hospital in critical care.

The New York State Department of Transportation has  considered reducing speeds and improving safety on the 198 for the last 10 years.

“Something really tragic has to happen for something to get pushed,” said Wally Sugorovskiy, Maksym’s father, in the days after the crash.

Wally and Mary Sugorovskiy told News 4 they were glad to see changes.

As drivers adjusted to the lower speed limit in June 2015, DOT crews installed guide rails to separate motorists from people walking in the park. By August, crews put stop signs at many of the on ramps to the 198 to slow traffic, and started on new pavement markings with visual cues to slow down.

“We owe it to this community not to have a highway cutting through one of our parks,” said Stephanie Crockatt, the Executive Director of Olmsted Parks Conservancy.

As many as 65,000 vehicles use the 198 every day, according to the DOT. The road was carved through the park by the early 1960’s.

In 1999, The Olmsted Parks Conservancy and City of Buffalo imitated talks to calm that portion of the 198. As a result, in 2005, the DOT issued a report on alternatives and began to look at the environmental impact.

The DOT held a public meeting in 2014, to get feedback on a proposed option for the roadway, but then took a step back after hearing what the community thought.

Since the tragic crash last year, it’s hosted several public meetings.

“Right now we’re seeing drawings that were typically from 2007, 2006,” said Crockatt. “It’s kind of like they just got dusted off.”

Crockatt told News 4 they want to see signs welcoming people to an Olmsted Parks zone, colored crosswalks and removal of the median. She said another possibility could be dropping that portion of the 198 down three feet and shaping the land so cars are barely visible.

“We have a really vital chance to make a difference here in Buffalo that could actually shape what happens across the nation,” said Crockatt.

Governor Andrew Cuomo included $30 million in this year’s budget to turn the expressway into an urban boulevard from Parkside to Grant. The speed will remain 30 miles per hour.

“This is a roadway for all users and that may be vehicle traffic, that may be pedestrian traffic, that may be bike traffic so what we’re looking to do is create a roadway that fits all users,” said Gary Holmes, the director of communications for the DOT.

DOT plans show long term changes would affect three major aspects of the roadway: the median, pedestrian and bike accommodations, and intersections.

One proposal includes a median that’s four feet wide. Two other suggestions include a landscaped median that is either 16 or 20 feet wide.

The DOT is considering a dedicated lane for cyclists along the road, extension of bike paths parallel to the 198, restoring historic pathways, or a combination of mixed used paths.

It’s also looking at whether stop lights or roundabouts are a better option for intersections along that portion of the road.

“That timeline is significantly expedited from where we were before,” said Holmes. “It’s about moving this project forward but finding one that’s the right size for the community.”

The DOT plans to finish getting community input by the end of 2016 and submit a plan for federal approval by the end of the year. It hopes to have a construction contract in place for 2017 and begin significant work by 2018.

The timeline from then on will depend on what options are selected. DOT estimates it will cost at least $115 million to reconstruct the expressway corridor.

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