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Delay likely in return of cars to Main Street

Cars are unlikely to reappear on Main Street in Buffalo's downtown core until at least late 2010.

Local planners Wednesday confirmed that the Federal Transportation Administration is still raising questions on how vehicular traffic will be reintroduced onto two key sections of Main Street. Those unresolved issues will stand in the way of an expected 2009 reconstruction start.

"We need [the FTA's] final approval to move into the construction phase, so it appears we've lost 2009," said Debra Chernoff, planning chief for Buffalo Place.

The latest wrinkles in the $40 million "Cars Sharing Main Street" project came to light in an FTA letter received this week, Chernoff told the Buffalo Place board of directors.

The project's planners, which include Buffalo Place, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority and the City of Buffalo, will meet later this week to discuss the lengthy list of outstanding issues on how vehicular traffic, Metro Rail and pedestrians will share a seven-block section of Main Street in the downtown core.

The delay-plagued project, under discussion since the late 1990s, was expected to move into the execution stage next summer with reconfiguration of Main Street's 600 block -- between Tupper and Chippewa streets -- and lower Main Street -- from the Buffalo River to Exchange Street.

Designs for the project to open downtown Buffalo's 25-year-old transit/pedestrian mall to cars have been in near-final form since early 2006, awaiting sign-off by federal transportation officials. Promised construction starts in 2006, 2007 and 2008 failed to materialize due to unresolved issues such as location of surface rail stations and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The FTA's sign off is critical to the project to free up tens of millions of dollars in federal funding.

Buffalo Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said he will continue to push for resolution of the roadblocks.

"We feel 98 percent of the FTA's concerns can be resolved quickly, and we'll keep plugging away to get it all worked out," Stepniak said. "I'm not giving up on starting something next year."

Timing of the traffic integration project could have major implications for the $400 million Canal Side redevelopment of Buffalo's inner harbor. Phase One of Canal Side, slated to be under construction in 2009 and 2010, will focus on sites along lower Main Street where Memorial Auditorium and the Donovan State Office Building now stand.

Current work to restore two-way traffic to the 700 block of Main Street, between Tupper and Goodell streets, has also fallen slightly off schedule. The one-block project, which got under way in August, will not be wrapped up as planned by year's end.

Stepniak confirmed the project will be put on hold next month when work on the west side of the street concludes.

"We'll start the east side by April 1 or sooner and be done by June. We'd rather get it right than rush it," he said.

One-way northbound traffic will continue to utilize the unimproved east lane through the winter. On-street parking spaces will be available on the east side of the block during the construction hiatus.


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