The Senate surface transportation bill has funds that can be used to help pay for approach roads and other facilities needed for a modern bridge across the Niagara River at Buffalo, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said Thursday.
The New York Democrat identified $320 million in annual special federal transportation payments to New York in the legislation as the source of the aid.
Available federal aid would significantly cut the cost of a proposal that a local group is promoting to build a new, six-lane bridge to Canada. The cost of interchanges, approach roads, storm sewers, signals, and other supporting infrastructure often equals or surpasses the price of a bridge.
In the past, the Peace Bridge Authority has not been aggressive in pursuing these federal funds.
Whatever new span is built, Moynihan said, would be financed out of funds borrowed by the authority. But the federal government, he said, should be prepared to spend "between $50 million and $100 million" for approach roads and other complementary infrastructure.
"In the past, New York State has used this money for maintenance," Moynihan said in an interview. "It should be used for something important. A great bridge would be such an entity!"
Meanwhile, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., sought to dispel reports circulated in Buffalo that he is not in favor of the local group's plan for a replacement bridge, SuperSpan.
"I am totally in support of what they are doing," D'Amato said, referring to the proposal by SuperSpan Upper Niagara to build a new six-lane bridge of international significance, instead of the twin to the Peace Bridge that the authority proposes.
D'Amato said in an interview he will meet soon with Moynihan and discuss the plan with Gov. Pataki.
Moynihan said that New York will receive $1.9 billion over six years as partial repayment for the state's donating the Thruway to the Interstate system.
The state already has received $600 million from this source under the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act, which expired Sept. 30.
In fact, the bridge authority, in recent correspondence to Moynihan, said it plans to spend more than $21.3 million in federal money under the act for approach roads in its plan to "twin" the existing bridge.
Funds under the act are drawn from the 18.3-cent-a-gallon federal gasoline tax.
The just-expired law allows the Secretary of Transportation to use federal funds for repairs and other facilities of toll-financed roads, tunnels and bridges.
Conceivably, if Congress extends the law, as expected, the Department of Transportation would be authorized to finance much more than SuperSpan's approach roads. There is no record of the authority's ever applying for funds other than the $21.3 million for part of the cost of approach roads.
Authority general manager Steve Mayer said the Peace Bridge was and is aware of the potential eligibility of the bridge for federal aid to finance repairs and resurfacing.
Mayer declined to say whether the bridge authority made a conscious decision to spurn federal aid.
"We have always chosen to fulfill our mission without being a burden on the taxpayer," he said.
Asked whether he thought the recent increase in tolls needed to defray borrowing costs has resulted in loss of business to other spans, Mayer said "our tolls are very competitive with other bridges."
The Peace Bridge Authority has about $112 million in unspent and uncommitted borrowing capacity. It has already spent $53 million out of borrowing authority approved in 1993.
The bridge's borrowing power was increased this year to a total of $165 million by the State Legislature and Gov. Pataki.
When the authority wrote to Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, asking that he sponsor the legislation, it sent along a table of future bridge expenses.
These costs include $40 million to repair and resurface the existing bridge, $23 million for connecting roads, $40 million to $60 million for an expanded toll plaza, and $36 million for truck inspection yards in Fort Erie.
Had the yards been built in Buffalo, as proposed in 1990 by then-Rep. Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo, they would have been eligible for federal funds under the transportation act, according to Roy Kienitz, deputy director, Surface Transportation Policy Project, a non-partisan interest group. Kienitz said approach roads and other facilities associated with bridges are eligible for federal funds.