BUFFALO, NY (BUSINESS FIRST OF BUFFALO) -- The slim hopes of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. to land a $100 million grant in the earliest round of a new, federal transportation bill have been dashed.
Officials admitted they had only a limited chance of securing the federal dollars to help finance the construction of a bridge that would connect downtown's Canal Side project area with the city's vast outer harbor. Their suspicions proved accurate when the federal government only allocated $85 million in so-called TIGER grants to New York City's Moynihan Train Station expansion project. No other New York project received TIGER grant funding.
Last fall, officials thought some $300 million would be bound for various New York state projects.
ECHDC wants the bridge to span across the Buffalo River from either the foot of Main Street, just behind HSBC Arena, or off of Erie Street, near Waterfront Village. An environmental review is underway and construction, if funded can be secured, won't happen until next year at the earliest.
Other bridge sites along Ganson Street and Michigan Avenue were rejected by ECHDC as being impractical as were proposals for an underground tunnel or water ferry service.
While the bridge is at least one year away from construction, one harbor development corporation director felt that New York's two senators - Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand - failed to follow through on their pledges to lobby for the project in Washington.
"Buffalo's the third-poorest city in the country and we didn't get any stimulus dollars," asked Larry Quinn, ECHDC vice chairman. "But, the richest city in the world did? Stimulus dollars are geared towards reinvigorating the economy and these federal dollars did not go to Buffalo. It seems the politicians channeled them to New York City. I guess their real explanation was they wanted to take care of New York City and the Moynihan project."
Neither senator could be reached for comment.
However, Jordan Levy, ECHDC chairman, said that was not the case.
Too much work needs to be completed, including a final decision on where the bridge should be constructed before federal dollars will be allocated.
"We're a long way from funding," Levy said.
The bridge is expected to make access between downtown Buffalo and the virtually vacant outer harbor easier, thus opening the door for private sector-fueled development opportunities along the land that fronts Lake Erie.
Quinn also suggested other sites besides Main and Erie streets should be considered because of the impact the bridge could have on sailors attempting to bring their boats in and out of the weather-protected Buffalo River.
Some sailboats have 50-foot tall masts while the bridge may only be 20 feet above the water. Boats will have to wait for the bridge to be lifted before entering or leaving the Buffalo River.
"Waiting is one thing," said Quinn, the Buffalo Sabres' managing partner and a noted sailor. "But, trying to get in when there's a bad storm, that's another thing."