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Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan is asking the Federal Highway Administration whether federal highway funds can be used to help finance an expansion of the Peace Bridge in Buffalo.

"Significant savings in the cost of financing the proposed bridge can be achieved by the prudent application of some of these new or prospective financing techniques," the New York Democrat said in a letter Thursday to acting Federal Highway Administrator Gloria Jeff.

Moynihan wants the agency to explore the possibility of using federal funds or credit on the international bridge, which is operated jointly by New York State and Canada.

The Department of Transportation, which includes the highway administration, has helped a number of projects by American toll-collecting agencies by cutting regulatory red tape, putting the federal government's credit behind them and directly funding facility repairs.

Aides said the senator wants the highway administration to determine whether the Peace Bridge Authority could become eligible for federal assistance through a ruling by the secretary of transportation.

Moynihan asked the highway administration to provide his staff "with the appropriate technical assistance to determine to what extent some of these new (financing) techniques can be applied in this situation."

Under the Peace Bridge Authority's proposal, more than $109 million of the total cost of the project would be financed through the sale of interest-bearing revenue bonds, with the payments to bondholders coming from the tolls the authority collects at the bridge.

Use of federal funds from gasoline taxes or use of federal credit guarantees for the new bridge project could ease pressure on the authority to increase tolls. Higher tolls could divert truck traffic to other crossings, depriving Buffalo of the benefits of trade.

Lawrence E. Meckler, the authority's vice chairman, voiced concerns that using federal funds or credit might subject the bridge to additional federal regulations, which could delay the project.

To defray some of the cost of connecting roads for the Peace Bridge, the authority already is planning to use some federal aid, known as "Nowak money," from an appropriation passed in 1991 when then Rep. Henry J. Nowak, D-Buffalo, inserted a provision in the transportation law for $19.5 million for such roads.

The authority has a plan to build a twin bridge next to the existing bridge, which would undergo major repairs once the new bridge is finished.

The authority plans to finance through the sale of bonds its 55 percent share of the new bridge, which would be $35.75 million of the projected $65 million total, plus $40 million for an expanded toll plaza, $23.5 million to repair and repaint the old bridge, and $8.5 million as the American share of the cost of putting a new deck on the 1927 structure.

An alternative proposal by a group of Buffalo businesspeople calls for a $100 million, six- to eight-lane bridge that would span the Niagara River between LaSalle Park and Fort Erie, Ont.

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