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The state has dropped its controversial plan to widen Hertel Avenue by nine feet, turning the project over to the city, which now is pursuing a relatively minor expansion of the main drag of North Buffalo.

"We may go a foot on each side," City Engineer Daniel E. Kreuz said Friday. "The state in the last six months has decided to allow municipalities to administer these projects themselves."

Merchants and residents were alarmed early last summer when they learned the state Department of Transportation had preliminary plans to substantially widen Hertel, saying the $6.9 million plan would destroy its neighborhood commercial feel and turn it into a suburban highway.

City public works officials responded by insisting they would have a strong say in what happened to the street, and came up with an interim restriping plan that reduced it to one traveling lane in each direction with a middle turn lane.

Craig Palladino, president of the Hertel-North Buffalo Business Association, said members of his group met with state and city officials later in the summer to discuss a possible compromise, but did not know what the final outcome would be. Until now.

"This is the first word we've gotten since the city restriped," he said. "A foot on each side is OK."

TVGA Engineering of Elma has been awarded the contract by the city for preparing the plans and conducting the public hearings for the widening project. It is described as the 1.24 miles of Hertel between Delaware and Starin avenues.

The construction cost of the project is estimated at $4 million to $6 million. Kreuz said it will still be up to the federal government to determine whether the project will qualify under its funding guidelines.

"The feds will decide whether it improves safety and the level of service," he said.

City engineers and most store owners believe the restriping that reduced Hertel from four-lanes to two with the middle turning lane has been a success and should be retained. The city had earlier described the restriping as a one-year experiment.

The widening project schedule calls for construction on the 16-block stretch of Hertel included in the plan to begin in the spring of 2000 and last through 2001.

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