Rochester pushes back aqueduct construction start after project flagged for extensive review

Construction was to get underway next fall on the centerpiece of Rochester’s downtown riverfront improvement projects.

But the city revised that schedule in recent days, pushing the expected construction on the Broad Street bridge and aqueduct back at least a year, to late 2024.

Plans are to tear off the upper deck and approaches of the Broad Street bridge, strip away the century-old arches and the roadway that carries traffic over the Genesee River between Blue Cross Arena and the public library, then repurpose the historic aqueduct below.

There is talk of a promenade, a performance stage, water features.

“We are still solidifying those various components, but the overall vision still does include removals of the upper deck of the of the bridge,” said Kamal Crues, who manages the aqueduct and other waterfront projects under the Roc the Riverway program — each intended to improve public access to the river.

The administration insists this isn’t a delay, but that the timetable is being refined as they finalize the development process. Whatever the terminology, the change moves the project start beyond the expected spring 2024 opening of Constellation Brands’ new headquarters overlooking the river and aqueduct.

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Work continues on the historic Aqueduct Building along the Genesee River and Broad Street Bridge in downtown Rochester for the new Constellation Brands headquarters.

When the Victor-based company announced its plans last fall there was talk of coordinating construction. Gov. Kathy Hochul joined the news conference, committing $5 million specifically to expedite the aqueduct work.

So why the change?

According to Crues, the city recently learned that an extensive project review and design approval process is required under federal historic preservation law. Word came from the state, which more than a decade ago had reviewed a similar proposal for the bridge and aqueduct and found no adverse historical impacts.

“The project itself is right on track where it needs to be,” Crues said. “It’s really a full sprint, and we’re starting to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

Street work, improving some alleyways and converting South Avenue to two-way traffic, will continue as planned next year. That is possibly most critical to Constellation Brands. Though whether the Broad Street timing poses any challenges to its building design is unclear. Messages left with the company and property owners were not returned.

City Council approved additional funding Tuesday for design of the street work and initial project construction.

When construction does begin, it will be done in phases. It will start with the western approach, the portion of Broad Street between Blue Cross and Constellation leading up to the river’s edge — potentially dead-ending the bridge far above the plaza to be created.

When work will begin on the bridge itself is yet to be determined, and will require “substantial funding” the city has yet to secure, said Rich Perrin, the city’s environmental services commissioner. But it’s important to get started.

“It’s a big deal to have a Fortune 500 headquarters coming to your downtown,” Perrin said. “As they move that there, we want to make sure we’re creating at least that initial public space.”

Even if it is a year or so later than initially planned.

“I was always taught be quick but don’t be in a hurry,” Crues said. “Because, you know, when you hurry, you skip steps and you make mistakes. You don’t want to make any mistakes. We’re gonna go through this process, we’re going to be efficient about it. And we’re going to include the public every step of the way.”

Residents can share their ideas during an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at Blue Cross Arena, followed by a public design workshop at 5:30 p.m.

Includes reporting by staff writer Gino Fanelli.

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