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The first of 20 community workshops scheduled to help design the blueprint of future mass transit in Erie and Niagara counties turned up support Tuesday for an expanded, technologically advanced system that will help spur economic development.

"This is how they (the average citizen) makes an impact on the system," said Charles N. Frederiksen, executive director of the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council.

The council, active since the 1970s, draws on community suggestions to design a 20-year plan. The first five years of the plan annually receives millions of dollars from federal, state and local governments to maintain and rebuild the transit system.

Frederiksen said 80 percent of the funding is used to maintain the present system of roadways; the remainder goes to mass transit projects.

The current plan will expire in 2003, and the new plan will go through the year 2020. He said he was a little disappointed by the turnout, chairs and tables were set up for at least twice as many of the approximately 30 people who attended at Medaille College.

Charles D. Miller, principal transportation analyst for the council, said that every worthwhile transit project will not make it into the final five-year plan. The draft of the 20-year plan will be completed in 1 1/2 years, he added.

"We are looking at a modest 1.5 percent annual increase in traffic, so we're trying to project what congestion will look like, and the level of service that exists," Miller said.

Workshop participants were aided by maps that showed some plans, such as extending the mass transit system north and south, current bus routes and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority's proposed Hublink program, which would combine buses, vans and other vehicles to move people.

"The funds needed always exceed the actual allocations," Miller said, "It can't be a wish list. It's like your own budget, you have to be realistic about what you can buy with your income," he said.

The workshop group also specified controlling urban sprawl as a goal.

"These discussions happen everywhere. I don't think anyone is advocating metro government like in Toronto," Miller said, conceding that residents have to decide whether to build more and better roads to suburbs or move more people by mass transit.

The council will hold its next community workshop at 6:45 p.m. Thursday in the Jewish Community Center, 787 Delaware Ave.

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