A STATE-SPONSORED study won't be in final form for another couple of months. But the preliminary conclusions strengthen arguments in favor of the much-needed Buffalo-area highway that would be called the South Towns Connector.
As well they might. If properly planned and built, and especially if it hooks into Route 219 going south, this seven-mile road would have multiple advantages. Connecting the towns south of the city more directly with Buffalo, it would move traffic better while opening up the Lake Erie waterfront for the access and redevelopment this area needs and wants.
In a strict and immediate transportation sense, the Connector would relieve the congestion commuters now suffer through on the Thruway around exits 53, 54 and 55. It would avoid the Ogden Street interchange, running west of the Buffalo River and linking Route 219 directly to the Niagara Thruway in downtown Buffalo.
By taking heavy traffic inland and away from Route 5, which hugs Lake Erie, it would also open up the shoreline.
The benefits of the Connector to this area's economic development are clear, especially if it is integrated into a network of modern roads linking Toronto and Buffalo to Washington and Baltimore -- and at a time of mushrooming cross-border commercial traffic fueled by the new Free Trade Agreement.
Some earlier cost estimates, especially a $1 billion figure mentioned in September, looked scary -- but there was no need to let them be so frightening. Looking under the surface at the way the figures were developed clarifies their meaning.
The $1 billion estimate was in 2005 (not 1990) dollars -- a legitimate type of projection but not a terribly reliable one. No one can know what construction costs will be 15 years from now.
That estimate also was for the most expensive Connector highway option -- at the high end of a range of possible routes and plans. It also included the cost of cleaning up toxic waste sites along the way, sites that have to be dealt with sometime whether a road is built or not.
The current consultant's study focuses on two options. The shorter one, a highway running from the Niagara Thruway downtown across the Buffalo River and south to Milestrip Road near the Ford Stamping plant, is estimated to cost roughly $325 million.
A longer route, continuing south of Milestrip to Camp Road in Hamburg, would cost about $400 million.
That looks reliable and do-able. These estimates, based on current dollars, are less squishy than the earlier, higher one.
But no one ever said the South Towns Connector would be free, or even cheap. Just worthwhile.
With transportation, commuting, aesthetic, economic development and even international commercial benefits, this project could -- by 2005 -- prove itself a splendid bargain of growing value for everyone concerned.