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Revamp funds anticipated to let traffic return to Main St.

Proponents of returning vehicular traffic to Main Street downtown have $6 million toward implementing the plan, which is about $6 million short of what it will take to complete the first segment of the changeover, from Tupper to Chippewa streets.

Officials at a public information meeting on the proposal to have cars and trucks co-exist with Metro Rail trains said they were confident the remaining funding would be found.

"I don't think you'd have this many people [involved] if it wasn't going to go forward," said Michael Schmand, executive director of Buffalo Place, as he surveyed the gathering of officials and residents in the Market Arcade Film and Arts Center.

"I'm confident the local elected officials . . . see this as a can-do and a need-to-do project," he said.

Two project engineers for the city, John Bidell and Eric Schmarder, said they, too, are optimistic.

Bidell said he envisions the federal government eventually agreeing to pay 80 percent of the project's total cost, with the remainder coming from the city and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.

"Mayor [Byron W.] Brown supports it," he said. "It's one of his top agenda items for redevelopment."

Officials were collecting public comments with the idea of presenting preliminary design concepts sometime this spring. It is hoped a preliminary design will be completed by the end of the summer.

If that time frame holds true, and if the funding shortfall is overcome by the beginning of next year's construction season, Bidell and Schmarder said the first segment could be completed as early as the end of 2007.

Three additional segments, heading south toward HSBC Arena, would follow. Bidell estimated they will also cost in the range of $12 million apiece.

There are a number of challenges.

Surveys of the growing downtown residential community show that residents would like to maximize parking along Main Street, and balancing that need with the space needed for new rail stations is one of the issues that needs to be addressed.

The benefit will be a revival of commerce and activity downtown, Schmand said.

While some of those surveyed expressed a desire to keep cars off Main Street, Bidell said, "The overall consensus is, do it."

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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