WASHINGTON – It's called a highway bill, but for Buffalo, it will be every bit as much a strolling and biking bill.
And it is all because Rep. Brian Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, has targeted his priorities in the bill largely to new trails – most notably the Riverline project north of the Buffalo River, which would receive $10.5 million.
The Buffalo Outer Harbor Multi-Use Trails and the Lackawanna & Hamburg Shoreline Trail would get $2 million each under Higgins' requests, which he released Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the rehabilitation of the DL&W Terminal would get $5 million for Metrorail and public access improvements, and $500,000 would go to the Twin Cities Highway Complete Streets project connecting the cities of Tonawanda and North Tonawanda.
Higgins said he was able to focus his highway bill "earmarks" on such pedestrian-friendly projects because the larger infrastructure bill that Congress is developing will likely include money for bigger highway projects, such as the replacement of the Kensington Expressway with a rebuilt Humboldt Parkway.
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What's more, the pedestrian-friendly projects meet the moment in that biking is increasingly popular, he said. And while the region has a number of waterfront trails, "Buffalo has not nearly reached its potential in terms of a pedestrian-friendly waterfront," he said.
The projects included in the highway bill will help the city reach that potential, he added.
"What we're looking to do is create fluidity along the Buffalo waterfront to include Canalside, the DL&W, the Outer Harbor and the Buffalo River corridor," Higgins said. "And the Riverline project came along as a great opportunity to do that."
The Riverline is a 1.5-mile greenway envisioned for the abandoned DL&W rail line, stretching in a southeasterly direction from the Perry neighborhood.
The federal highway bill would fund about half the greenway, namely the section of the project called "the Del," which stretches from Moore Street to Katherine Street.
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"This would be focused on the design, construction and habitat restoration for that segment," said Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, which is developing the Riverline. "It would include bridges, which are so expensive, and the walking trail and bike trail. Right now we're working with a design team and we're almost finished with concept design for the project and it's focused on the idea of it being a refuge, with special places for gardens and recreation."
None of the funding Higgins is seeking is guaranteed at this point, given that the highway bill is just starting its journey through congressional committees. But this highway bill will be the first in a decade to include earmarks, pet projects selected by individual lawmakers but derided by critics as pork barrel spending.
Just like in the old days, though, the earmarks in the new highway bill are set to be bipartisan. That being the case, Rep. Chris Jacobs, an Orchard Park Republican, got seven projects into the bill:
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• A $9.9 million traffic mitigation project in Victor.
• $4 million in improvements to Rapids Road in Lockport.
• $1.4 million to rehabilitate Perry Road in Mount Morris.
• $1.4 million to replace the bridge over Spring Brook along Sharp Road in Concord.
• $1.2 million to replace the bridge over Murder Creek along Griswold Road in Darien.
• $1 million to replace the Bowen Creek Bridge on Rose Road in Batavia.
• $931,478 for maintenance along West Lake Road in Perry.
“I submitted these requests to ensure federal investments come to Western New York," Jacobs said. "This legislation is in the early stages and I am monitoring its progress. I still strongly believe the best way to make an impactful investment in infrastructure for all Americans is by developing these bills in a bipartisan way.”