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Transportation plan drumbeats efficiency

Squeeze a co-worker or two into the back seat for those trips to the office. Cram an extra freight pallet onto that outbound truck trailer or rail car.

New York State's transportation system is growing more congested by the day, and measures are needed to make sure it operates efficiently in the future, a draft master plan prepared by transportation officials asserts.

A major goal of the Master Plan for 2030, discussed Friday at a meeting of the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council, is to "increase average occupancy of all passenger vehicles, including automobiles, buses, rail cars, etc."

The same strategy should be applied to the movement of goods, "maximizing the amount of freight transported in each vehicle or rail car within allowable limits," the draft plan adds.

The document envisions a "seamless system" employing efficient management and advanced technology to meet "one of the greatest challenges facing transportation policymakers: alleviating traffic congestion without adding capacity."

At the same time, the 94-page report prepared by the Department of Transportation observes that "existing and future" fiscal constraints make it difficult for government at any level to finance infrastructure improvements."

Underscoring that point at the council meeting in the Hyatt Regency Buffalo, Transportation Commissioner Thomas J. Madison Jr. said the transportation budget is "the most robust in state history," with projects totaling $35.8 billion planned for the next five years -- including extension of the Route 219 Expressway past Springville. But, he said, "Our needs continue to outpace revenues."

Officials "need to identify sustainable revenue streams" including such nontraditional sources as public-private partnerships, Madison said. Twenty-three states and many nations currently invite private investors to help fund transportation needs, he said. "It's another tool we'd have at our disposal."

The regional council praised the draft plan for its comprehensive approach to future transportation needs.

But it also said the document understates the significance of Canada and the cross-border economy on Western New York. The Golden Horseshoe around Lake Ontario from Buffalo Niagara to Toronto "is the third-largest metropolitan area in North America and is rapidly growing," the group noted.

The finished master plan will need to better document "the nature of the western region and [offer] different strategies to address the unique opportunities and challenges of this border area," the council said.

Madison said the deadline for public comment on the draft plan has been extended to March 31.


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