New York State has officially launched a competition to generate ideas for a new vision for Buffalo’s Skyway.

The four-lane, four-mile, elevated expressway connecting I-190 in downtown Buffalo to Route 5 along Lake Erie was originally completed in 1953. As the state has redeveloped the city’s waterfront over the past decade, critics have argued it has created an access barrier.

The state has already selected a panel of experts to judge the competition. The winner will receive $100,000 and first and second runner-ups will get $50,000 and $25,000, respectively.

“I’m excited. It’s another big idea. It’s out of the box and I think it’s exactly what we need, another big, visionary, creative idea to excite Western New York and let the rest of the country know that Buffalo’s back,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-NY, said.

Cuomo said Western New York has a history of “protracted deliberation” on major capital projects and touted a tight timeline for the competition. There will be two phases with submissions for the first phase due June 28.

Phase I will allow respondents to provide an overview of their idea and how it addresses the main objectives and restraints of the competition. The state will announce the Top 20 submissions on July 15.

That first group of finalist will be required to submit a more comprehensive plan, including a full technical proposal and graphics, by August 17. Public information meetings will be scheduled to discuss those proposals between August 26 and September 2.

The winners will be announced the week of September 9.

“We will have whittled it down to eight. We will really award the first, second and third place winners during that week,” Empire State Development President Howard Zemsky said.

The competition will focus on affordability, feasibility, and quality of submissions. Zemsky said the website includes information for applicants to make sure the submissions fit those criteria, including the current infrastructure and transportation needs in the area.

“My guess is that’s going to be a point of discussion in the various proposals,” Cuomo said. “One of the questions will be, if you propose taking the Skyway down, what would the traffic alternatives be? Do you need additional infrastructure? Are there traffic routing devices that would mitigate any need for additional roadways?”

The governor said he spoke to one who designer who didn’t believe the city needed additional roads. He also pointed out the competition will not necessarily lead to the expressway being demolished.

Zemsky said if it is removed though, it would open up roughly 75 acres of waterfront along the “Skyway Corridor.” Realistically, the governor said, it could be years before the project actually happens, due to the need for funding and environmental impact studies.

The ESD president said it’s difficult to project a timeline until the state knows what the proposals are.