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NFTA begins construction on regional transport hub

Less than a mile from an NFTA airport that is springing back to life, construction began Friday on a $6.5 million regional transportation center that will provide bus service from Lewiston to downtown Buffalo.

Officials with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority said the authority intends to dispel past notions that it has neglected Niagara County in favor of Buffalo and Erie County.

"We are renewing our commitment to the people of Niagara County," said Henry M. Sloma, vice chairman of the NFTA.

As the official shovels dug into the ground for the new bus terminal, a Boeing 737 jet at Niagara Falls International Airport was loading passengers for Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The planes have been carrying nearly full loads of 124 passengers since the semi-weekly flights began March 9.

The NFTA, which owns the airport, plans to build a $23 million passenger terminal. Also, the authority recently signed a 20-year contract with a cargo transport consortium to develop a regional hub for international freight service at the long-dormant airport.

"There was a perception that the NFTA wasn't doing much in Niagara County," State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said during the bus terminal groundbreaking. "That has changed."

"You can be assured," said Lawrence M. Meckler, executive director of the NFTA, "that Niagara County will never, ever be forgotten."

Construction of the 5,400-square-foot transit center -- on Factory Outlet Boulevard between Military Road and the Niagara Thruway -- is on a fast track to be completed by December.

"We have located this center in the epicenter of commerce," Sloma said. "As gasoline hovers around $3 a gallon, bus transportation offers an alternative to drivers."

Amenities in the new transportation center will include:

*Covered walkways for bus passenger pick-up and drop-off.

*Flat-screen television monitors with the latest travel information.

*Metro fare ticket-dispensing machines.

*Scheduled route maps and tourist information.

*Restrooms, pay phones and a food service area.

*A 56-vehicle park-and-ride lot.

*Security cameras continually monitoring the property.

The building was designed by the architectural and engineering firm of Wendel Duchscherer. The project was developed by NF-3rd Associates and is being built by Picone Construction.

Niagara Falls Mayor Vince V. Anello said there was no rivalry between the city and the Town of Niagara in snagging the new center. He called it "very well located."

The city has the highest percentage of households in Niagara County without vehicles -- 22 percent, nearly double the countywide average, said C. Douglas Hartmayer, NFTA director of public affairs.

"This new bus center will hopefully change how people get around in this community," said Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston.

The new facility replaces a terminal in downtown Niagara Falls that was sold to the Seneca Gaming Corp. and demolished to make way for a casino parking garage.

A bus station on Portage Road in Niagara Falls, which was upgraded to temporarily take the place of the downtown terminal, will remain open.

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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