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Carrying more than 10,000 petition signatures to the state Capitol from Buffalo area residents urging a signature bridge, a delegation opposed to the twin span proposal on Friday urged Gov. Pataki to become more engaged in the bridge controversy.

"He keeps dodging the issue. He keeps hiding out," said Mark Mitkovski, vice president of the Peace Bridge Columbus Park Association, one of the groups urging a delay in efforts to build a three-lane, twin span to the existing Peace Bridge.

Mitkovski said the governor has failed to show leadership and ignored calls to get more involved on a key issue that will have an economic impact beyond just Western New York. He questioned Pataki's interest in being a vice presidential contender next year with the Peace Bridge issue looming.

"If he wants to go national, and he can't solve this simple problem, he's got another thing coming," Mitkovski said.

The Columbus Park Group and the New Millennium Group took their cause to the steps of the Capitol, urging Pataki to exert his influence over his four appointees to the Peace Bridge Authority to look to alternatives to a twin span.

"We want him to instruct his delegates to enter into a dialogue," said Jeff Belt, co-chairman of the New Millennium Group, a local community group pushing for the signature span.

The U.S. Coast Guard earlier this year issued a permit to build the twin span. But lawsuits filed by local institutional and environmental groups to halt the twin span construction, as well as a countersuit by the bridge authority to force Buffalo to turn over the necessary easements, has halted the project for now.

The representatives traveling to Albany Friday say it is crucial that Pataki get into the mix to show the Canadian government that the U.S. side is resolved to come up with alternatives to a twin span.

The governor, who rarely makes it to the Capitol these days, did not meet with the representatives.

His spokesman, Michael McKeon, did not return calls to comment.

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