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Downtown Buffalo's major employers will be asked to stagger working hours this summer to help relieve congestion expected from the closing of the outbound Skyway and Kensington Expressway.

The state Department of Transportation has begun a campaign to persuade employers to take steps to help prevent huge traffic jams when two of the city's main outbound commuter routes are closed and the Niagara Thruway is severely restricted.

"If they let their people stay 15 minutes longer," said William Moll, a DOT design engineer, "that will spread out the pack even more. The more concentrated it is, the more difficult it will be to manage."

The area's biggest construction season will get under way March 1 when the DOT closes the Skyway's outbound lanes to allow for reconstruction of the aging span. That will be followed by closing of the outbound Kensington from Grider Street to the Thru-way around March 15 and restrictions on the Niagara Thruway in April.

As with last year's inbound Kensington project, traffic will be detoured to alternative routes such as Genesee Street, Kensington Avenue and Main Street. Traffic signals on those streets will be synchronized to accommodate the outbound flow, and engineers think it will work.

"The Kensington Expressway should run pretty smoothly," Moll said. "We don't see it as that big of a problem."

But the engineers acknowledge they don't know what will happen when the Skyway's 30,000 daily commuters are
diverted. Although they think alternative routes like Ohio Street will work, they hope to stagger the rush hour to reduce the concentration.

"It will be at capacity in peak hours," Moll said.

Moll and officials from the DOT's Albany headquarters have visited more than a dozen downtown businesses recently, meeting with personnel managers to convince them of the seriousness of the situation. So far, most businesses apparently want to cooperate.

"We're hoping to do as much as possible to have our employees support the effort," said Fred Pawlikowski, vice president of employee relations for M&T Bank.

He said he figures the project will affect not only M&T's downtown employees, but those commuting from the South Towns to other M&T offices as well.

Other employers, like the City of Buffalo, Erie County and Empire of America, also have been contacted by the DOT. Wayne D. Arcangel, Empire's vice president of human resources, said his bank also will cooperate, possibly by altering shift times.

"We'll take a look at how many employees will be affected," he said, "and then see what accommodations we can make so it won't be so much of a zoo out there."

Kimberly D. Williamson, assistant director of Buffalo Place Inc., said her organization plans to cooperate by distributing the DOT's informational brochures and including information about detours in its downtown newsletter. She added that the possibility of specials at restaurants and theaters will be explored to keep people downtown after work.

A similar plan was successfully employed last year in Rochester during heavy construction on commuter routes, she said.

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