Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced a $300 million proposal to upgrade the Erie Canal with recreational hotspots and a series of environmental improvements to combat flooding, restore wetlands, and enhance agricultural irrigation across New York State. Revamping the 19th-century waterway, which spans 363 miles from the Great Lakes to the Hudson River, is expected to bring a wave of economic development to the 225 communities that surround it.
The news comes based on research conducted by Governor Cuomo’s Reimagine the Canals task force, a group assembled last May to produce a report on how the Canal’s historic infrastructure could be used to advance the health and well-being of area residents, economies, and ecosystems. BuroHappold Engineering was selected to head up the task force as the lead consultant.
The first phase of funding will be granted this year and will provide $100 million in investment to support projects that innovatively reuse canal infrastructure, according to the governor’s office, and create new ways to enjoy the water. A separate $65 million will go to helping prevent ice jams along the Canal and flooding.
Last restored in 1999 and designated as a National Heritage Area the following year, the Erie Canal has long-been underutilized, the task force noted. Cuomo aims to repurpose it to “fit our state’s 21st century needs.”
“This bold and visionary plan to transform this historic waterway will build on the success of the Empire State Trail,” said the Governor in a press release, “grow tourism across Upstate New York, improve the resilience of today’s Canal communities, and ensure the economic sustainability of the waterway into the future.”
The Empire State Trail, stretching 750 miles long, is expected to be finished later this year and will further tie in the Canal improvements as they are built-out over the several years. The second phase of the initiative will involve the remaining $135 million and any further project recommendations suggested by the task force.
In an email to AN, Alice Shay, an associate in BurroHappold’s Cities practice, said all phases will heavily involve the input of canalside residents. “It’s critical to ensure that local communities are brought into the process and that the reimagining celebrates the history and heritage of the canal,” she said.
“We’re looking at ways to adapt the system’s assets for new uses that tap into this heritage, including transforming historic structures into tourism and recreation destinations and celebrating the canal’s infrastructure with hydro-powered illumination.”