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STATE BOND WOULD FUND UPGRADE OF ROUTE 219

Seven weeks before asking New York voters to approve the largest borrowing proposal in state history, officials finally released a list of what projects would be funded, including a $100 million commitment to upgrade Route 219.

If approved by voters, the $3.8 billion raised in the Transportation Infrastructure Bond Act of 2000 would be pooled with funds already in place to create a five-year, $34.2 billion transportation program, according to state Department of Transportation officials.

The $34.2 billion would be roughly split between mass transportation projects for New York City and its suburbs and improvements to roads, bridges and the state canal system.

Items of local interest in the program include the Route 219 project; funds toward a new rail bridge over the Buffalo River; money for airports in Buffalo, Dunkirk, Olean and Wellsville; and the reconstruction of sections of Route 20 in Hamburg, Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield and Route 20A in East Aurora.

The list of projects was detailed in a memorandum of agreement announced Monday by Gov. George E. Pataki, Sen. Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Most of the program has been detailed.

If voters approve the Bond Act on Nov. 7, Transportation Department spokesman Michael Fleischer said, the money will be committed to the projects. If not, "we would need to revisit the program" and adjust for the shortfall, he said.

What exactly would be cut if the bond act fails has yet to be announced, and that bothered state Comptroller H. Carl McCall.

"Because the projects are presented as part of the comprehensive transportation plan, it is difficult for voters to understand which projects will not be funded if the bond act fails," he said. "It will be important for the governor and Legislature to articulate their priorities before Election Day."

McCall also criticized the delay in releasing the list of projects. "Given the magnitude of the debt involved, voters need all the information and time possible to make an informed choice," he said.

Estimates have put the cost of completing Route 219 as a four-lane highway from Springville to Salamanca at approaching $500 million. The $100 million the state would set aside would be added to another $50 million in federal funding that has already been secured.

"It's a great economic development project for Western New York," said Art Benson, who has worked on the road expansion idea for nearly 30 years as head of the U.S. Route 219 Association.

"They will never be able to get all the money they missed, but this is great," he said. "It will pay back in taxes whatever the taxpayer invests in it."

The 219 extension would connect the northern and southern edges of State Sen. Patricia K. McGee's district.

"I think that it's something that will not only provide a good infrastructure for our area . . . but also be one of the most important economic development tools we can have here as we compete with other areas of the state and nation," she said.

The other major road improvement included in the program is the $425 million upgrade of Route 17 to Interstate 86, but most of that money will go to areas along the road east of where it connects to Interstate 390 near Avoca.

The Norfolk Southern Railroad has long lobbied for a second rail bridge over the Buffalo River, and the act would commit $10 million toward that project.

Railroad spokesman Rudy Husband said a second bridge would alleviate rail bottlenecks caused by the fact there is only one working rail bridge over the river now.

The railroad's traffic into Buffalo has increased from about five trains a day in the early 1980s to about 30 a day, he said.

"It is extremely difficult trying to interest organizations to develop property in Buffalo that would be served by the Norfolk Southern when we can't ensure we can bring them the transportation services when they want them," said Husband, who estimated the cost of a new, fixed bridge at $20 million.

The NFTA would also get money to replace 25 old buses ($7 million); renovate the Metropolitan Transportation Center ($2.5 million); and buy 20 smaller handicapped-accessible buses and build new suburban hubs ($2 million).

The transportation plan also calls for nearly $10 million in local canal improvements, including $5.9 million for work along the canal in Lockport; $2 million for a new trail that would link Lockport, Pendleton and Amherst; and $1 million for a trail that would link Ellicott Creek Park and Amherst Town Park.

Among the other projects listed in the memorandum of agreement:

$22.8 million to add sidewalks and a center, two-way left-turn lane to Route 20 in Hamburg between Amsdell Road and Orchard Park Road; $12.9 million to reconstruct Niagara Falls Boulevard in Wheatfield from the North Tonawanda line to Nash Road; and $8.6 million to rehabilitate Route 20A in East Aurora from the traffic circle to the village line.

$5 million to Buffalo Niagara International Airport; $3 million to Wellsville Airport; $2.8 million to Olean Airport; and $2 million to Dunkirk Airport;

$2 million to the Port of Buffalo; $1.35 million for a potential relocation of the Exchange Street Amtrak station; and $650,000 toward the Niagara Falls Amtrak station.

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