On Wednesday, Sept. 4, Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined by NYS Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy, NYS Senator Timothy Kennedy (D-63rd District), NYS Assemblymember Sean Ryan (D-149th District), Erie County Legislator Lynne Dixon, National Grid Regional Director Dennis Elsenbeck, and representatives from area railways and industries as he announced the completion of the Rail Relocation Project at the former Bethlehem Steel site in Lackawanna. The Project entailed the installation of approximately two miles of rail track in the north-south direction on the site, in the process removing rail tracks that had hindered access to the site and opening up approximately 300 acres of land ready for development and new investment.
“The completion of the Rail Relocation Project begins a new chapter in the history of the former Bethlehem Steel site, and will serve as a catalyst for new development and investment here in Lackawanna,” said Poloncarz. “As the son of a former Bethlehem Steel worker, I am very proud to see a new day dawning for business in Erie County here in Lackawanna. With these improvements, this site has become a fully-functioning intermodal transportation center and international manufacturing site, with the Port of Buffalo, interstate access on the I-90 corridor, and international bridge crossings located just minutes away. Additionally, there are direct rail connections with four major rail carriers here, including CSX, NS, and international carriers CP and CN. There is no other site like this in the Northeast United States, and I would like to thank the staff of the Department of Environment & Planning and our partners for working with us to revitalize industry here in Erie County.”
“Today’s announcement of the reconstruction and relocation of approximately two miles of new rail on the former Bethlehem Steel site is yet another example of the acceleration that we are seeing in western New York,” said Lieutenant Governor Robert J. Duffy. “This project will enable a more efficient rail system by removing old barriers, providing better rail service, and will even open up 400 acres for redevelopment. Governor Cuomo recognizes the economic opportunities afforded by underutilized industrial sites here in Western New York, and I laud his leadership in continuing to inject revitalization into the entire Lake Erie waterfront.”
“With this project we lift a barrier to job creation and economic development in the City of Lackawanna,” said Congressman Brian Higgins. “For too long Western New York saw itself as a helpless victim of lost industry. Today, with projects like this, we are finding new opportunities to embrace our past and re-imagine our future.”
The existing rail system at the Bethlehem site was designed to serve a single-use steel manufacturing facility which has been closed for 30 years. The new rail system, which consists of a “spine” rail corridor through the center of the site, replaces a large amount of track that had been located along Route 5 and had blocked access to the site, and will maximize the site’s intermodal possibilities.
Senator Tim Kennedy said, “For years, local families relied on work at Bethlehem Steel to earn a living and make ends meet. And with this revitalization project, Lackawanna’s waterfront will once again be the home of good-paying, family-sustaining jobs for hardworking men and women in Western New York. This intelligent public investment will spur private development on 300 acres of prime land by removing obstacles and opening up new access to the former Bethlehem Steel site. Lackawanna has long needed this investment, and I’m thrilled the state, county and private industry partnered to complete this critical project to brighten our economic future.”
Assemblyman Sean Ryan said, “Through many years of hard work, and investment from Erie County, New York State, and the private sector, Lackawanna can now offer a unique area that is primed for development. The transformation of this area is long overdue, and the infrastructure upgrades will help to lure new businesses and create jobs for the people of Lackawanna. The investment and revitalization at the former Bethlehem Steel site will pay dividends for Lackawanna’s future.”
Legislator Lynne Dixon said, “It is great to see this effort finally come to fruition after 13 years, knowing how important revitalization of the Bethlehem Steel site is to the economic redevelopment of the greater Western New York region. The county administration and I have both set this development as a goal and it’s nice to see the completion of this rail project. We are one step closer to providing the infrastructure necessary for future development at that site.”
City of Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski said, “Lackawanna is open for business again. We are positioned in a prime location which is easily accessible by water, road, and intermodal. There isn’t an area in this country that can’t be reached by these tremendous avenues of transportation. With the right plan in place, the City of Lackawanna can be the transportation hub for the nation. The relocation of the rail lines opens up vast new possibilities for business opportunities in the City of Lackawanna and the Western New York region. I’d like to thank County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Robert Duffy, Congressman Brian Higgins and our representatives in the state assembly and senate for recognizing the tremendous opportunities that this 1,000-acres site has to offer.”
The Erie County Industrial Development Agency (“ECIDA”) served as the Project and Construction manager for the Project. New York State Multimodal funding accounted for $4.4 million of the Project costs, while a National Grid Brownfield Redevelopment Program Grant accounted for $300,000.
“Our programs are specifically designed to help facilitate growth, and work best when it is part of a partnership with all parties driving toward the same goal,” said Dennis Elsenbeck, National Grid’s regional executive for Western New York. “This community’s ability to reclaim and redevelop the Bethlehem site is critical to regional development efforts, and this railway project should prove to be a key element in the larger effort.”
Erie County first became involved in the project in 2000, obtaining a national Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) Brownfield Pilot for the Bethlehem Steel site. In 2003 Erie County exchanged $2 million in County Bond financing with the City of Buffalo for $2 million of Multimodal funding from New York State; the $2 million Erie County received was dedicated for rail work on the site. In 2010, Erie County received a Multimodal I contract from NYS for $2.42 million which was applied to the site. In 2011, the ECIDA in conjunction with Erie County received a $300,000 grant from National Grid to assist in the relocation of utilities for the Project.
Tecumseh General Manager Keith Nagel said, “”Tecumseh Redevelopment and ArcelorMittal USA are pleased to be a part of this historic occasion. The relocation of this rail line will help move the redevelopment of this former steelmaking site far into the future for the benefit of the entire Lackawanna area.”
The Bethlehem site is one of the largest brownfield sites in upstate New York with over 1,000 acres, of which 400 acres are available for near-term redevelopment. It is the only site in Erie County with rail, port, and easy highway access and is one of the few available sites in Erie County zoned for heavy industry. The 400 acres available for near-term use are in the NYSDEC Brownfield Cleanup program and are eligible for tax credits.
Bethlehem Steel’s Lackawanna plant first opened up in 1899 as the Lackawanna Iron & Steel Company. At its peak, the Bethlehem Steel plant employed over 25,000 workers and had over 7 million square feet of buildings, as well as almost 30 miles of rail track. During World War II it was the highest-volume and most productive steel facility in the country, producing more steel for U.S. warships than any other U.S. steel mill. Bethlehem Steel closed steel manufacturing operations in 1983. In 2000, this site was selected as one of four nationwide to take part in EPA’s new Brownfield Pilot Program.