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Adding to waterfront momentum Higgins' move to get out ahead on Buffalo River bridge is sharp

Waterfront redevelopment momentum is building, and it's good to see its champions looking beyond current projects and farther into the future. Rep. Brian M. Higgins, for one, has now taken a specific step to speed what will be a needed future link between Buffalo's inner and outer harbors.

That link is a bridge spanning the Buffalo River from the foot of Main Street to Fuhrmann Boulevard on the outer harbor. It would depart Main Street at the point where springtime construction work is now accelerating on the Erie Canal Harbor Project. It arrives across the river where the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. just added master-plan elements that can link to a proposed Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority redevelopment project on the lake shore. While the new inner harbor master plan includes only a bridge concept subject to change, any such bridge needs an environmental impact study -- and Higgins wants to jump-start that process.

He has asked for $1.5 million for that environmental study, which could save more than a year when a bridge is ready to move from drawing board to construction. The study is the congressman's top-priority request for funding from the transportation portion of the 2006 federal budget, and is separate from the $22.3 million designated for a Southtowns Connector.

By starting an environmental impact study on the master plan bridge now, Buffalo can have either a completed study or completed research that can be used on any other nearby bridge location by the time the next multiyear federal highway bill comes up in 2011. Project-ready status would help immensely in gaining funding for bridge construction -- with a better cost estimate than the ballpark $70 million.

Thinking ahead demonstrates the leadership Buffalo needs. Washington can now make an early and momentum-increasing investment in Buffalo's harbor rebirth, and it merits doing.