BOND ISSUE MEANS $60 MILLION A YEAR HERE, DOT AIDE SAYS - The Buffalo News

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BOND ISSUE MEANS $60 MILLION A YEAR HERE, DOT AIDE SAYS

A $60 million annual increase in Western New York's highway program would result if state voters were to approve the $3 billion transportation bond issue Nov. 8, according to the regional director of the state Department of Transportation.

Robert J. Russell, who oversees the department's activities in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties, said the region's annual program probably would fall into the $120 million to $140 million range if the bond issue were approved, compared with a current annual program of about $80 million.

"We seem to have more line items than a lot of other regions," Russell said. "My overall impression is that we did quite well."

Russell, who said that "the biggest problem we've had is a drop in federal aid," noted that the memorandum is only a small part of the total Western New York program, because regularly budgeted state funds and other bond-issue funds would pay for such projects, too.

The memorandum was agreed upon by legislative leaders and negotiators for Gov. Cuomo earlier this week as part of an effort to help sell the bond issue to the voters. By outlining certain projects in various areas of the state and by assuring their completion during the bond issue's four-year life, its advocates hope to win votes.

"We need to show people what individual projects they will get for their money," Russell said.

The Western New York projects include rehabilitation of the Youngmann Highway and reconstruction of parts of Route 20 along with many other highways.

Although most legislators were generally pleased with the projects on the list, there was some disappointment that no money was committed to extending the four lanes of Route 219 south to the Pennsylvania line from its current terminus at Springville.

The highway's proponents had urged that $20 million be included in the memorandum to begin design and right-of-way acquisition.

Arthur Benson, president of the U.S. Route 219 Association, said he was glad that the memorandum mentioned the extension project but was disappointed that no dollars were allocated.

He criticized the memorandum for making the commitment of state dollars dependent on funding from the federal government and Pennsylvania for the portion of the highway in that state.

"We're not interested in Pennsylvania," he said. "Let Pennsylvania take care of itself."

He added that if Assemblyman Vincent J. Graber, the rest of the Legislature and the Department of Transportation were to work on the project with Democratic Rep. Henry J. Nowak of Buffalo, the Route 219 extension would be built.

Legislators involved in negotiating the memorandum said that without a federal commitment to the extension, no state dollars could be earmarked in the bond issue. "It was the absolute best I could do," said Graber, the West Seneca Democrat who is chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee and a key negotiator of the memorandum. "And we weren't going to get that language if it were up to certain other elements, including the Senate."

Another strong proponent of the Route 219 extension, state Sen. William T. Stachowski, D-Buffalo, said he thought that the commitment in the memorandum was a giant step forward for the project.

"The language that's in there is very important," he said. ". . . Now, at least the state has made a commitment."

Graber said that failing to fund the Route 219 project freed up money for other projects that otherwise might not have been affordable.

"I can understand that people are perturbed that no money will be spent on acquiring the right of way for 219," Graber said. "But if we moved everything into that, a lot of things that are extremely important today wouldn't happen."

One surprise element in the memorandum was $9 million to build an additional two lanes on the Southern Tier Expressway from Route 394 west of the Chautauqua Lake Bridge to the Panama-Stedman exit in North Harmony, Chautauqua County.

Graber said the Southern Tier Expressway would benefit from another project in the memorandum -- the long-sought Corning bypass.

Legislators also were happy to see $500,000 in the memorandum for a feasibility study of the proposed South Towns Connector. Its inclusion was hailed as the first show of state interest in participating in the project, which calls for eventual relocation of the waterfront portion of Route 5.

Assemblyman Francis J. Pordum, D-Hamburg, said inclusion of the proposed connector marks an important beginning for a project that could open up vast areas of waterfront land for development.

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