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Only a handful of residents showed up Thursday night to look at 12 alternative proposals for moving commercial traffic away from Buffalo's waterfront and into the South Towns.

"I'm surprised it's not many people here to address this issue. They are going to wait until they start building the highway, and then they'll scream bloody murder," said Henry Barnas of Lackawanna.

His home is near Route 5 and the Norfolk & Southern and Conrail railroad tracks. At least one of the proposals calls for building a highway along the existing rail route, and Barnas said he has been going to public forums concerning the proposal since 1991.

"This could end up a couple of hundred feet from my property," he said, noting the potential for noise from the rumble of daily truck traffic.

The state Department of Transportation and its consultants initiated the South Towns Connector study project mostly based on residents' demands for more access to the waterfront and increased opportunities for residential development and commercial activity, said Gary V. Gottlieb, director of High Priority Projects Group for the DOT.

Traffic along corridors south of downtown is growing at a rate of about 3 percent a year or more, and eventually something will have to be done to address the situation, Gottlieb said. The hearing was held in the Lackawanna Senior Center on Martin Road.

A lot depends on how Buffalo plans to develop its waterfront, Gottlieb said, and planners are also working with Lackawanna, Blasdell, Hamburg and other communities to address their concerns.

"When we build something, we expect it to be in use at least for the next 20 years, so we are looking at the year 2020 for traffic modeling purposes," he said.

"The nucleus to this whole plan is here," said John Rugnetta of the Locksley Park Taxpayers Association in Hamburg. He was pointing to a map that outlines a tunnel under the Buffalo River. It could be connected to Route 5.

"That would clean this place out here and give access to the beach," he said, suggesting that the Skyway come down in favor of a new waterfront vista. He said that would also provide greater access to Marine Midland Arena.

Fred Dinkel and Robert Hoelzl, Athol Springs businessmen who draw some of their customers from Route 5 traffic, prefer proposals that use existing rail corridors because they may cost taxpayers less to develop. However, Hoelzl noted that such plans could also shift customers away from his automotive shop.

"Any project is going to hurt some people and help others," he said.

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