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Cuomo offers $500 million economic boost to Western New York

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Monday he will push to spend $500 million on a second round of the Buffalo Billion program.

The money would help fund an extension of the light rail system to Amherst, the purchase of idle land in downtown Niagara Falls and turning some of the former Bethlehem Steel plant property into an industrial park for advanced manufacturing.

[Gallery: Gov. Cuomo delivers State of the State address]

“You made this happen,’’ Cuomo told a gathering of supporters at the University at Buffalo's North Campus in Amherst, during his second State of the State speech of the day.

Cuomo called the first round of funding under the Buffalo Billion a success that has helped turn around the image of the Western New York area.

The governor’s spending plan came after he last year insisted the program would be renewed despite the central role a major part of the initial Buffalo Billion has played in the bid-rigging and pay-to-play investigation by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara that has led to the indictments of eight people, some with close ties to Cuomo.

The new proposal would include:

* Developing a new commuter rail and multi-modal station in downtown Buffalo and completing the light rail line’s extension to Amherst. Additionally, the aging Exchange Street station would be replaced;

* Investing in “place-making” improvements on the city’s East Side, which the administration says would leverage private investments in the Central Terminal, Martin Luther King Park and other locations;

* Funding for improvements along 10 miles of Main Street, from the Outer Harbor to UB's North Campus. Officials said the plan also calls for luring private investment in the DL&W Terminal;

* Moving the Buffalo Manufacturing Works, the industrial innovation center operated by nonprofit EWI, to Northland, expanding greenway space in the Niagara Gorge corridor, and additional state funding at the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, historic sites, and waterway access areas.

How all those projects would be funded with $500 million is uncertain, though more details could emerge when Cuomo unveils his 2017-18 budget plan in the coming week.

The governor, in his second of six State of the State addresses around the state this week, said he will also propose a $2 billion fund for clean drinking water infrastructure improvements. How the program will be funded, such as through a voter-approved statewide referendum, remained uncertain.

The governor invited a slew of government officials, including the mayor of Rochester and representatives from the Finger Lakes.

But the speech focused its spending initiatives almost exclusively on the Buffalo area, a region Cuomo has focused on since taking office in 2011 and after losing much of the region in the 2010 gubernatorial election.

Cuomo said the focus on Western New York has been done to “make up for years of abandonment and years of inaction” by the state.

Cuomo also pushed his plan to provide free tuition – beyond state and federal grants already received – for some public college students; he said 85 percent of families from the Buffalo area would be eligible to participate if his plan is adopted by the Legislature.

As expected, the governor also proposed to make ride-hailing services, like Uber and Lyft, available upstate.

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