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The Federal Transit Administration's decision to put a last-minute roadblock in the way of Buffalo's Inner Harbor project is bureaucracy at its worst. While the agency should indeed seek satisfaction that public money is being used properly, its questions should have come at the start of the process -- not when the shovels are poised to hit the ground.

Instead, delays in releasing $14.8 million in federal aid could push groundbreaking for the $27 million harbor project back another season. That work was expected to start within weeks.

Federal aid for the project was won in 1995. Rep. Jack Quinn, R-Hamburg, points out that the intent of Congress -- to help Buffalo with a vital waterfront redevelopment project -- was very clear. He has offered to meet with U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater to reaffirm that intent.

Slater should meet with the congressman on this issue immediately, intervening if necessary to speed the federal review process. This project is a vital part of efforts to revitalize the city core, and it already has been delayed long enough.

When Quinn championed the funding, there was no doubt that the project involved infrastructure improvements in an area that was once a world-renowned transportation hub. As an enhancement of an existing juncture of road, water and light- and heavy-rail routes, it could help recapture some of that lost vitality and provide the city with a much-needed regional attraction and destination in the process.

But the FTA, which more typically funds such things as new buses, transportation centers and mass transit extensions, now wants to be sure the project in fact has something to do with transportation. That would be reasonable enough -- if it had been done in a more timely manner.

Now, the FTA's eleventh-hour search for "transit-eligible components" is simply an untimely bureaucratic delay, and one which either the agency or Slater should end quickly. A protracted review, or one which forces Quinn to find another channel for the federal funding, will push harbor groundbreaking past another northern winter and into next spring or summer. There's no good reason for that.

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