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Engineers said today it is feasible to build tunnels under the Buffalo River linking downtown with Fuhrmann Boulevard, and Mayor Griffin said he wants to start the ambitious project in a year.

"Now is the time and place, and this is the best alternative we have," the mayor said. "This tunnel would mean more progress for the city."

The mayor's comments came during a press conference at which the results of a $60,000 study were released by Hayden/Wegman Consulting Engineers. The firm was hired a year ago by the city to study the tunnel idea.

Engineers said the rock under the river is suitable for the project, and it could be built for between $65 million and $80 million. A second phase of the project could include demolition of the Skyway Bridge at a cost of up to $10 million.

The mayor said he preferred building a tunnel rather than a $55 million bridge because a tunnel could ultimately free 3.4 acres of downtown land for development. He also said tunnels would require less maintenance.

The tunnels would initially link Fuhrmann with downtown at Church Street. Two tunnels would be built under the river near the Erie Basin Marina, carrying two lanes of traffic each.

Ultimately, the mayor said he would like the tunnel to provide a link between the proposed South Towns Connector and the city's central business district. The tunnel project would be considered separately from the connector, which Griffin said could cost up to $1 billion.

The mayor said he will approach the federal, state and county governments for most of the money needed for the tunnel project. The city portion would be paid for by issuing bonds, he said.

Regional governments have suggested seeking tens of millions of dollars in state and federal funds as well for World University Games facilities, a new hockey arena and, eventually, a new football stadium.

Engineers said it would take about two years to complete the tunnel project once construction began. They also said it could be built with a minimum amount of disruption to development in the area.

Griffin suggested that some day the city may want to construct a 9-hole golf course in the Times Beach area across the river from the Erie Basin Marina. He said the Coast Guard may eventually want to leave the site.

The golf course idea, however, was not definite. The mayor said the city's first priority will be to pursue funding for the tunnels.

"This golf course is just a dream, but so was Pilot Field at one time," the mayor said.

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