ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — City officials describe the Aqueduct Reimagined project as the “centerpiece” of the ROC the Riverway initiative.

Hailed as a “bold plan to create a central gathering place and riverfront connectivity on the downtown waterfront,” officials claim Aqueduct Reimagined will connect neighborhoods, expand the Riverway Trail, catalyze new development, and inspire generations to come.

Lofty expectations? Certainly, but there’s a lot of time for these ambitions to come to fruition, according to the construction timeline. Current plans say the project is expected to take more than five years to complete.

The multi-faceted project includes the removal of the upper deck of the Broad Street Bridge and the preservation and enhancement of the 1842 aqueduct below as a new public space. Plans call for the removal of the deck of the Broad Street Bridge to open up river views that have been blocked for nearly a century, while also connecting both the east and west portions of the Genesee Riverway Trail.

Officials say the project will connect four downtown Rochester landmarks: The Rundel Library, the Blue Cross Arena, the Joseph A. Floreano Convention Center, and the Aqueduct Building.

What will the development ultimately look like and mean for Rochester? That depends.

City officials say the project will include a “significant” amount of public input to inform the final plans for the downtown public space. The project’s Community Advisory Committee will begin its regular meetings this week and the first public information session — which will include interactive stations and walking tours — will be held on Saturday, April 30 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Aqueduct Reimagined ties together so many assets that are unique to Rochester,” said Rochester Mayor Malik Evans. “With the support of New York State, a vision created from years of study and ideation, and the input of our community, we are going to make this project a long-awaited reality.”

The state has already committed $9.5 million for the project and those funds will be administered by the New York State Department of Transportation.

However, the City will need more funding to pursue this project to completion. Officials told News 8, though the total cost has yet to be determined and can “vary widely” depending on the scope, the total project is expected to cost up to $100 million.

Street network improvements are scheduled to begin next spring. Phase one construction — including structural improvements, relocation of utilities in the aqueduct, and the removal of part of the vehicular portion of the Broad Street Bridge — is scheduled to begin in fall 2023 and continue into 2024.

City officials say phase two of construction — which includes plans to completely remove the Broad Street Bridge vehicular deck — is scheduled to begin in 2025. This effort will bring the bridge grade level with the original Erie Canal towpaths and create “an iconic public space that embodies the community’s wishes.”

Aqueduct Reimagined Project Timeline

  • May 2009 – The Historic Erie Canal Aqueduct & Broad Street Corridor Master Plan completed
  • May 2018 – The ROC the Riverway Vision Plan for the Future of Rochester’s Genesee Riverfront introduced; New York State commits $4.5 million to the project
  • March 7, 2022 – Gov. Kathy Hochul commits an additional $5 million for the project, bringing the total commitment to date from New York State to $9.5 million.
  • April 14, 2022 – First Community Advisory Committee Meeting for Aqueduct Reimagined
  • April 30, 2022 – Public input workshop, including information sharing and soliciting the community’s initial ideas on the future of the Aqueduct as a dynamic public space
  • Summer 2022 – Design Charette
  • Fall 2022 – Design workshop, preliminary design, and alternatives
  • Spring 2023 – Phase One final design approval and Phase Two final design initiation
  • Summer 2023 – Traffic pattern changes get underway in preparation for construction
    • Modification of Southbound South Avenue to two-way traffic from Woodbury Blvd to East Main Street
    • Reconstruction of Stone Street between East Main and Broad Streets
    • Reconstruction of Aqueduct Street between East Main and Broad Streets
  • Fall 2023 – Fall 2024 – Relocation of utilities and removal of the western portion of the Broad Street bridge deck
  • Winter 2024 – Phase Two final design approval
  • 2025 – Phase Two construction begins

History of the Aqueduct

According to city officials, the Erie Canal Aqueduct that exists today is the second structure that carried the Erie Canal over the Genesee River in Rochester.

Made of Onondaga Limestone, the construction was completed in 1842 and measures approximately 800 feet long, 70 feet wide, and 27 feet high with an interior canal bed of 8 feet 6 inches.

Shipping on the Erie Canal peaked in the late 1800s but dropped off significantly since. That led Upstate New York cities to call for the removal of the canal from downtowns because the aging infrastructure required regular maintenance and the canal presented conflicts with vehicles.

The Erie Canal was then re-routed south of Rochester in the early 1900s. In the mid-1920s, a two-mile segment was converted into a subway, where trackers were laid into the sunken canal bed. That was then capped to create Broad Street over the river. The subway was used from 1927 to 1956, but the tunnel has been mostly unused since.

Since 1972, approximately $34 million has been spent on maintaining the structural integrity of the tunnel and the Broad Street Bridge.