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Buffalo's traffic lights make for slow going

Many weary drivers are saying the same things.

Put Buffalo's traffic signals in sync.

Get rid of lights that have outlasted their usefulness.

Outfit other signals with special gizmos that keep lights green until vehicles on quieter streets approach intersections.

City Hall officials have heeded their advice. They're stepping up an effort that began last year to better coordinate traffic signals on some of Buffalo's busiest streets.

Mayor Byron W. Brown recently met with public works honchos and engineers to review the effort. Brown said he can relate to the frustrations drivers feel when they're forced to make incessant stops. It not only eats up time -- it wastes fuel.

We performed an offbeat lunch hour experiment Wednesday. We drove up Delaware Avenue from West Mohawk to Forest, then made our way back downtown via Elmwood Avenue. We hit eight lights on Delaware and spent a third of our travel time -- just over three and a half minutes -- sitting at signals.

We also hit eight lights on Elmwood -- nine if you count the one on South Elmwood behind City Hall. We spent just under four minutes of our 12-minute excursion waiting at lights. Check out our video and you'll understand why some drivers would argue that "life in the fast lane" doesn't exist on some Buffalo thoroughfares.

Officials say motorists should see big improvements on numerous city streets by next spring -- even sooner on some stretches.

How would you describe your driving experiences in the city?

-- Brian Meyer

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High-speed rail may be on the fast track

   All aboard!

   Chances appear better than ever for high-speed rail now that President Obama is making it a signature issue of his administration.

   New York lawmakers are working to bring some of the $8 billion targeted for high-speed rail in the stimulus package to New York.

   Are you excited about faster trains? Would you use them, and if so, how?

   -- Mark Sommer

The $3 billion ticket to Albany

   WASHINGTON -- Imagine being able to get to Albany by train in less than three hours. 

  It's sort of a mixed bag, isn't it? You'd get there half as fast as you would by car, but the trouble is, once you got there, you'd still be in Albany.|

  In all seriousness, this idea of a high-speed rail line from Buffalo to Albany is something to take seriously.

   It would also cut the train travel time to New York City to about five hours, and serve as an economic engine for an upstate region that needs one.

   In addition, it would be a great convenience to anyone who needs to get to the state capital from the state's second-largest city -- which are currently not linked by commercial air service.

   So, is it worth $3 billion in economic stimulus money?

   -- Jerry Zremski

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Costs keep mounting for Route 219 project

   The trouble started in June 2007, when the state Department of Transportation loaded 150,000 cubic yards of fill onto a section of the Route 219 extension being built south of Springville.

   The material was being used to build bridges that would carry the four-lane highway over Scoby Hill Road, but contractors soon discovered the ground underneath was sliding as much as an inch a day.

   Subsequent testing of the area revealed a landslide area about 3,300 feet long by 1,300 feet wide by 100 feet deep, right in the projected path of the highway.

   "I don't know how anybody could have anticipated this," a DOT official said at the time. "Obviously if we had an indication of this kind of problem, things would have been different."

   The problem is that there were indications.

   As part of the work done in preparation of the West Valley Demonstration Project, an earth scientist developed a map of the geology in the area. That map, released in 1979, characterized the exact area where the landslide occurred as "landslides, slumps."

   Another landslide map, developed by geologists with the United States and New York State Geological Surveys, came out 10 years and showed the area with individual slides that were "too numerous to map."

   The weight of the fill the DOT loaded onto the area apparently triggered the landslide, so the fill had to be unloaded. That alone, according to the DOT, cost the state a little more than $1 million.

   It will cost more millions to put the road through the landslide area. The prefered solution, according to the state's engineers, "will reduce, but not completely eliminate slide movement."

   Should the state have foreseen this problem, which will add millions of your tax dollars to the cost of the project?

   Should planners consider re-routing the road away from an area its engineers anticipate will force the periodic reconstruction of the highway?

  -- John F. Bonfatti

Making sense of getting across the border

   WASHINGTON -- It used to be easy to go to Canada. All you had to do is look innocent and be nice to the person you regarded as a glorified crossing guard in the glass booth at the Peace Bridge, and before you knew it you were cruising down the QEW.

   But the guys and gals in the glass booths were really always much more than glorified crossing guards, and now the U.S. government seems out to prove it.

   First Uncle Sam was going to require passports at the Canadian border. And then, after a years-long wrangle beset with all the drama and action of a Merchant-Ivory production, settled on allowing New York to offer an "enhanced driver's license" -- while the feds offer a new "passport card" to ease border
crossings.

   And now, finally, the passport card is being issued.

   But buyer, beware: applying for the passport card and a regular New York driver's license will cost you more than just getting a new enhanced driver's license when it becomes available on Sept. 16.

   Got that?

   Or are you still confused by all wrangling over border security documents, and longing for the old days?

   -- Jerry Zremski

Picking at the Peace Bridge plan

   WASHINGTON -- Here we go again.

   The Western New York equivalent to the quest for the Holy Grail -- the quest for a "signature" Peace Bridge -- is back in one of its perennial pick-at-it phases.

   This time some big guys, most notably the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, are picking at it.

   And the concerns they raise, about the expansion of the bridge plaza and its potential impact on human health and historic properties, aren't for the birds.

   Yet that's what we thought this debate was all about -- the common tern, the lowly gull that might be powerful enough to knock down plans for a soaring cable-stayed span between Buffalo and Fort Erie.

   Instead, it turns out the bridge debate is about people, and a city's past, and its future.

   No doubt about it, though: for many Western New Yorkers, the debate is a frustrating one.

   After all, it was going on long before "google" became a verb.

   In fact, it's been going on so long that it raises an important question.

   At this point, how many of you would be satisfied with a pontoon bridge to Fort Erie?

  -- Jerry Zremski

Thruway adds to the high cost of living here

  Thruway Authority officials pressed a hot button with statewide motorists Friday by approving a 5 percent toll hike set to take effect for cash customers on Jan. 1.

   That follows a 10 percent toll increase last year, and precedes another 5 percent hike in 2010.

   What especially irks motorists this time is a toll jump in conjunction with soaring gasoline prices. It all makes what used to be a happy-go-lucky jaunt down the Thruway into a major financial undertaking.

   Just ask Susan Arena. The Williamsville resident recently started what she called a dream job as business administrator for the Silver Creek School District. Now she figures she will pay $44 per month in Thruway tolls on top of all she shells out at the pump.

   "It's becoming a huge financial burden especially with the cost of gasoline," she said Friday.

   Arena is not alone. Costs are going up for everything -- gasoline, tolls, food -- you name it. And in economically depressed Western New York, it all starts to add up.

   The latest toll hike has prompted lots of outrage. Rep. Brian Higgins and Assemblyman Mark Schroeder, both Buffalo Democrats, expressed their frustration on Friday. Schroeder even called for the Thruway Authority to be abolished.

   But of the six members of the Thruway Authority, only Niagara County's Jeff Williams cast a negative vote on Friday. It just seems there is no stopping the rise in prices -- especially when it comes to driving your car.

   -- Robert J. McCarthy

Audit of Thruway Authority could derail toll-hike proposal

     Proposed Thruway toll hikes by yet another unelected, largely unaccountable state authority goes beyond the extra dollars we would pay in tolls. It is another brick on the towering wall of fees, expenses, taxes, tolls and subsidies that suffocate upstate businesses, kill jobs and drive people to the Carolinas and other job-growth states in search of a steady paycheck.

   The thought here is the coming audit of the Thruway Authority will uncover enough pots of patronage and waste to offset the push for toll hikes, which are becoming politically indigestible as public disgust mounts.

   Speaking of public disgust, how do you feel about the proposed Thruway toll increases?

-- Donn Esmonde

Thruway Authority spending keeps going up, up, up

    Thruway tolls will go up an unprecedented four times in six years if the state Thruway Authority has its way. The Buffalo News, in an analysis published Sunday, details how spending is on the rise because of financial burdens state lawmakers placed on the authority more than a decade ago and a dramatic recent increase in spending. The News also found that more than 4,000 past and present authority employees, as well as the board members who set toll rates, do not pay tolls themselves.

    Your thoughts on the toll increase?