With the snip of a ribbon Friday morning, a small group battling for "four lanes to Lockport" will be three miles closer.
The gathering of state and local officials at the new Millersport Highway terminus of the Lockport Expressway (Interstate 990) officially will open another two-mile stretch of the highway and a one-mile widened stretch of Millersport.
A four-lane route between Buffalo and Lockport then will be only two more miles short of that goal.
"It's certainly a step in the right direction," Lockport Mayor Thomas C. Rotondo said, "but we'd like to see it continuing right on north."
Since 1979, Rotondo and other community leaders have been pressing Albany and Washington for money to complete the four-lane link between Erie and Niagara counties. The newest portion represents a $20 million commitment of federal and state funds, but Lockport residents want more.
They see it as a vital commercial route that will bring business and new residents to Niagara County.
"There needs to be a major link between Buffalo and Lockport," Rotondo said. "We don't want to be the forgotten little city by the canal."
John Collins, a Lockport realty agent who heads the Four Lanes to Lockport Committee, said the group hopes the job can be finished by widening another 2.1 miles of Millersport all the way to Transit Road. Then traffic between the two cities would have four-lane access for the entire trip via Transit, Millersport, the Lockport Expressway, the Youngmann Highway, Thruway and Kensington Expressway.
"I think traffic will increase so much they'll find they'll have to widen it," Collins said.
The project is part of the state Department of Transportation's long-range plans, but Regional Director Robert J. Russell said it must compete with other new construction proposals. He thinks the next project would cost about $7 million.
"To change from two lanes to four lanes is expensive," he said. "And in order to do that, there has to be a demonstrated usage."
Russell also explained that the new portion was built outside of the regular highway planning process. Instead, it was included in the "memorandum of understanding" between the governor and Legislature that accompanied the 1983 Rebuild New York bond issue.
"This is clearly a defined objective of Niagara County and the Lockport community," he said. "We're trying to deal with our precious infrastructure needs versus capacity improvement in the deficit situation. It's the dilemma we're faced with."