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Albany Riverfront Collaborative chosen for funding amid 787 redesign talk

An elevated portion of I-787 as seen from the Dunn Memorial Bridge
Lucas Willard
An elevated portion of I-787 as seen from the Dunn Memorial Bridge

Interstate 787 carries tens of thousands of motorists in and out of Albany every day. Now, the Albany Riverfront Collaborative has been chosen to participate in a program that will support efforts to repair historical damage and inequities through redesigning the superhighway and the South Mall Arterial.

The fate of 787 has been discussed countless times over the last two decades.

Years of talk of "re-imagining" 787 to reconnect residents with the Hudson River waterfront seem to be coming to fruition.

Co-chair Jodi Smits Anderson says the Albany Riverfront Collaborative is the recipient of a $130,000 grant along with technical support given to its "Together We Can" project, the focus of which is to "repair damage and equitably redesign I-787 in Downtown Albany" and "to build local capacity to advocate and co-design the project impacted Albany communities."

“The entire point of the Albany Riverfront Collaborative has been to try and inform people that we shouldn't be talking about a project by project basis," said Anderson. "There are going to be tens or even hundreds of projects over the next 30, 40, 50 years that impact our connection to each other and to the waterfront, and to natural systems. Addressing climate change, addressing economic prosperity for all, addressing diversity and inclusion, and a real community strength within the city of Albany, and in the region. So many, many projects will come up. And every single one of those projects should be informed by voices from throughout every neighborhood of Albany.”

Democratic 109th District State Assemblymember Pat Fahy has been leading the drive to reimagine the highway. She says while there have been dozens of studies conducted over the years, the current Department of Transportation effort represents a "serious engineering study."

“After three years of work, we got $5 million in the state budget last year," Fahy said. "So work continues to explore, reimagining all of 787. A lot of outreach from the Department of Transportation and their contractor to a whole host of community groups, as well as some of the local electeds. And the pieces that we continue to push are including either a multi acre land bridge or some call a Cap Park, as well as which is going over the highway while we're trying to convert or eliminate some of the access roads, some of the ramps, some of the bridges so we want this to be as imaginative as possible. We still need a major thoroughfare. But we also want to look at going under parts of 787 to bring the canal into Albany right next to Albany Central Warehouse, which some consider Albany's biggest eyesore, is the original lock one of the Erie Canal.”

Fahy acknowledges the need for a major thoroughfare but argues that 787 was built for 30% more capacity than it needed.

Anderson points out that over the years interest has grown in reducing the physical impacts, the maintenance impact and the carbon impact of the highway along the riverfront, because it is cutting people off from the river. She adds it's also created many environmental injustice and air quality issues. She says the opportunity to reverse and repair damage and inequities wrought by 787 is closer than ever to achieving.

“Because there is a five $5 million study underway by the Department of Transportation. So the biggest, most obvious current opportunity is to make sure that Department of Transportation has all of the inputs from the community and all of the co-creative ideation from the community. So that they can start to adjust their process to really understanding what the community's need, “ said Anderson.

The notion of opening riverfront access by burying some parts of the road while elevating others remains strong on the list of possible outcomes for transforming the superhighway.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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