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AREA PROJECTS LEFT IN LIMBO AS TRANSPORTATION BILL DIES

Most of a long-range $80 million package of Western New York transportation projects died Saturday when Congress adjourned.

Spending authorizations that expired involve the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, retrofitting Buffalo's Main Street for vehicles and funding a pedestrian overpass on the University at Buffalo North Campus in Amherst, plus inner-city roads programs in Buffalo and Lackawanna.

Other projects left behind include a new parkway from Dunkirk to Sheridan in Chautauqua County and intermodal transportation centers in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Jamestown.

These and a dozen others were to be included in the "Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users," a $300 billion, six-year reauthorization of federal transportation spending.

Those involved in crafting the regional part of the measure included the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, Mayor Anthony M. Masiello, County Executive Joel A. Giambra and Rep. Jack F. Quinn Jr., R-Hamburg, who is retiring.

Local officials voiced optimism that these long-range authorizations will be restored after Congress returns in January. But highway industry spokesmen were bearish about what will happen when the White House targets pork for the slaughterhouse.

"We expect our local (congressional) delegation will pull through for us," said Marina P. Woolcott, an aide to Giambra.

One cause for hope: $5.6 million included in the annual catch-all bill for research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute and the University at Buffalo that passed Saturday. These projects are distinct from those in the long-range legislation that died.

On that score, "Congress will have to start from scratch," said Dave Schwietert, government affairs director for the General Contractors of America. "When Congress comes back, it's going to he a whole new ballgame."

The Republican-controlled Congress, which has pushed hard for expensive earmarked projects, and President Bush have quarreled over spending levels since the last six-year plan expired Sept. 30, 2003.

The House tried to force Bush to sign a $375 billion version of the bill -- $100 billion more than Bush said he
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would allow. Disputes over spending levels continued through the election and simmered into the last days of this Congress.

Next year, Congress will confronted a newly empowered president, a growing deficit and other huge demands on federal spending that include revision of Social Security and Medicare.

Hoping to increase the area's share of federal funding, Buffalo Niagara region leaders settled on Quinn two years ago as the point man to get the package through Congress. He had been a subcommittee chairman on the Transportation Committee.

But Quinn's sudden decision to retire undercut his standing in the House. He was barred from the House-Senate conference committee that tried to untangle disputes over spending levels.

Quinn left a voice-mail message saying he was moving articles from his congressional office to his home in Virginia. He did not vote Saturday on the annual appropriations bill.

Masiello said he had spoken with Quinn earlier last week about the millions in the bill for the city's inner harbor project and Quinn had assured him "he is fighting hard" for the money. But when Congress adjourns, Quinn's role, diminished as it became, will be history.

Failure is an orphan in Washington, so no legislative or industry spokesman was willing to talk about the death of a bill that had been years in the making.

An official familiar with state problems said the state's share of federal transportation money will be threatened as never before by the new Congress, led by Republicans who feel the state already has received more than its share.

"We'll have to start all over with a brand new bill next year," the official said, "and whatever happens, New York State is going to be hurt."

e-mail: dturner@buffnews.com

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