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Buffalo, Falls to get federal funding $950,000 aimed at speeding the return of cars to Main Street

A step forward for the return of cars to Main Street in Buffalo and a new train station for Niagara Falls are among the projects to be funded with more than $3 million in local money included in a federal spending bill that's likely to pass next week, lawmakers announced Tuesday.

Buffalo will receive $950,000 for the $40 million Main Street project, which will be enough to redesign the downtown pedestrian mall from Chippewa Street to Church Street.

Meanwhile, Niagara Falls will receive $950,000 to improve railway infrastructure and aid in the construction of a railway center/transport-ation center building.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, both D-N.Y., announced the funding in a joint news release.

"This is terrific news for the City of Buffalo that will bring new life to downtown," Schumer said. "Investing in the revitalization of downtown will boost economic development prospects across the city, bringing jobs, business and economic prowess to the entire region.

The $950,000 in federal funds will be used to design and engineer the preliminary stages of Phase II of the Main Street reconstruction project. It remains unclear exactly when construction will start on the long-stalled project.

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 approval from federal transportation officials.

Promised construction starts in 2006, 2007 and 2008 failed to materialize because of unresolved issues such as location of rail stations and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As for the money for Niagara Falls, it will be used to improve railway infrastructure and to help pay for the construction of a railway center/intermodal transportation center building downtown, near the city's tourist attractions.

The Federal Transit Administration has been "stalling this project," Schumer said, adding that he was able to get the agency to commit to moving it forward.

Schumer, who secured $2.5 million for the project in 2004, announced last year that federal officials had agreed to expedite it, allowing the city to break ground on the new station this year.

The new station, which will replace an outdated facility three miles from the falls, will give the city a major boost, Gillibrand said.

"These federal dollars will go a long way to keep Niagara Falls an easily accessible tourist attraction," she said. "This facility will be a one-stop shop to boost economic growth in the region."

The money for Buffalo and Niagara Falls will be included in an omnibus federal spending bill funding government operations through the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill today, with Senate consideration set for next week.

Other local projects funded in the bill include:

* The installation of supplemental safety measures at four highway grade crossings in the Town of Hamburg and the designation of a 4.5-mile "quiet zone" along Hamburg's railroad tracks to alleviate noise from passing trains. The Hamburg projects will receive $475,000 in federal funding.

"We have consistently advocated for this project to be funded since first attending a community meeting several years ago, and we're thrilled to finally see this move forward," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo. "Creating this quiet zone will be of enormous benefit to the Town of Hamburg, improving quality of life for those 20,000 residents residing within hearing range of the trains, as well as improving local property values."

* A $285,000 grant to St. Bonaventure University to develop the Father Mychal Judge Exchange Program, a cultural exchange program between the United States and Ireland.

* A $148,000 set-aside to initiate the work of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, which is aimed at boosting tourism and commerce in the Niagara Falls area.

"This critical federal funding for the Niagara Falls Heritage Area will provide the start-up funds to not only protect this prized natural resource, but also help revitalize the local economy by attracting tourists to the region," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-Fairport.

* A $143,000 appropriation for Catholic Health System in Buffalo to expand its telemedicine network for stroke victims.

* A $95,000 set-aside for the Nurses Leadership Project at Niagara University.

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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