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Road extension and bridge project authorized

NORTH TONAWANDA – The Common Council authorized work this season on two construction projects that have been years in the making and have the potential to boost the economy – extending Meadow Drive as a through street to Erie Avenue and rehabilitating the decrepit, 600-foot Durkee Memorial Bridge to Tonawanda Island.

“They’re coming to fruition finally,” said Alderwoman Nancy Donovan. “These are like the last pieces of the puzzle.”

Construction is expected to start in the weeks ahead, adding to a growing assortment of city building projects, including the refurbishing of a Niagara River marina.

The Council at its Tuesday evening meeting gave the mayor formal permission to ask for $1.4 million in federal funds that have been set aside for the Meadow Drive construction expected to start sometime this summer. This was slow in coming because the city had to spend about five years’ negotiating with CSX Corp. for permission to build the road extension across the company’s railroad tracks, said City Engineer Dale Marshall. He will advertise for bids later this month and may award the contract in June.

When construction is finished later this year, he said, Meadow Drive, now a dead end, will connect to Erie and add another east-west route to the central business district, improve traffic flow and open a stretch of land for development of about 60 houses.

Also in a few weeks, workers from Yarussi Construction of Niagara Falls will begin the $2 million in repairs to the salt-eroded Durkee Memorial Bridge, now 50 years old. The bridge, named for former Mayor Frederick B. Durkee, connects Tonawanda Island to River Road. Roughly a third of the island, about 80 acres, is private, undeveloped, industrial property with potential, said Marshall.

“The island is so important to the city’s future development that it makes sense to fix the bridge now, before people start living on that island,” he said. “It might aid in the development.”

Meanwhile, contractor H. F. Darling of Williamsville already has begun to drive pilings along the Niagara River to rebuild the marina at Gratwick Riverside Park. That project, expected to attract boating tourists, will eventually have space for 60 boats, and it will be completed in phases, said Marshall.

The first phase, worth $690,000, will include a dock for about 22 boats. It will be “transient” docking so that people can stop in and park temporarily, visit the city and perhaps stop at a new dockside restaurant, Lumberjack’s Patio and Grill, which is expected to open by Memorial Day weekend, Marshall said.

In other action at the meeting, Detective Chief William Hall of the North Tonawanda Police Department was named interim chief while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement for retiring Chief Randy Szukala.

“I feel proud that they had the faith in me,” said Hall, 55, a North Tonawanda native who has served in the department for 28 years. “Hopefully, things will work out and I’ll continue on with the job.”