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HOUSE FUNDING FOR WNY COMES UP SHORT DESPITE HOPE FOR EXTENSION OF ROUTE 219

The Buffalo area received less transportation funding than had been requested from the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday, but the committee's bill offers hope that Route 219 may someday be extended well into Pennsylvania.

Rep. Jack F. Quinn, R-Hamburg, asked for $60 million in earmarked funding to complete Route 219 as a four-lane expressway from Springville to Salamanca but received only $20 million in targeted funds.

At the same time, the committee accorded "priority corridor" status to the project from Salamanca to Interstate 80, a major east-west artery in Pennsylvania.

This priority status, Quinn's aides said, makes the Route 219 project eligible for some of the $1.2 billion the committee would provide under the National Corridor and Border Infrastructure program.

But even with this upgraded status, Niagara Frontier advocates of Route 219 still must compete in Pennsylvania with that state's ambitious plans to complete Route 15 -- running from the Corning area to Frederick, Md. -- and Interstate 99 -- as the state's next major north-south routes.

New York State will have the option of devoting some of its estimated $14 billion total surface transportation allocation to Route 219 and other Western New York programs. These decisions are up to Gov. Pataki.

The committee approved $70 million in federal funds for priority, earmarked projects for Quinn's Erie County district during the next six years.

Quinn said the money includes $12 million for the Earthquake Engineering Research Center at the University at Buffalo, and $12 million for a UB/Calspan transportation injury research center.

The allocations are part of a $217 billion surface transportation bill approved by the committee Tuesday in a unanimous vote.

It will be the basic vehicle for House decisions on transportation spending. If a version of it is passed, it will be merged with a $214 billion plan approved by the Senate, and sent back to both houses for likely approval.

The earmarked "high-priority" highway projects were derided by critics as pork-barrel spending. The Senate approved no earmarked projects.

The national total of the House committee bill is $26 billion more than some Republican leaders were willing to spend on transportation, but they will be likely to bend to the wishes of the committee in this congressional election year.

Federal transportation programs expire May 1 unless Congress renews them. "America has a transportation crisis," Transportation Committee Chairman Bud Shuster, R-Pa., told reporters. "Our highways are being used more. They are crumbling. We have a need to rebuild them to save lives . . . (and) increase productivity."

Projects approved by the panel for Quinn's district also include:

Buffalo Outer Harbor Bridge project, $16.26 million. An estimated $40 million will be needed to complete the project linking downtown Buffalo with the Outer Harbor area.

Amtrak station relocation from Exchange Street to Memorial Auditorium, $4 million. Eight million dollars was sought.

DL&W Station in the proposed Cobblestone District of downtown Buffalo, $1 million.

Cheektowaga/Lancaster William Street bypass, $3 million for study and land acquisition.

Interstate 190 safety improvements, $400,000 for research. The award was triggered by the recent rush-hour collision that killed six people on the southbound lane of the Thruway.

Quinn said the panel also approved $100,000 for studies of improvements for Route 5 in Hamburg.

Allocations for the districts of Rep. Amory Houghton, R-Corning; Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst, and Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, were not immediately available.

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