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Funding for Drum connector rejected

TIMES WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT
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WASHINGTON — The federal Transportation Department turned down the Fort Drum connector highway for funding in the latest round of stimulus-related grants, closing one possible route toward the $113 million project's completion in 2012.


One more round of federal transportation funding remains, although it will be less than half of the $1.5 billion announced last week for the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program.


New York transportation officials had requested $95 million for the Interstate 781 project, citing its strategic importance to Fort Drum, which the Defense Department has said would benefit from a four-lane connection to Interstate 81. Without the federal funding, the project would be delayed, officials said in the application.


The administration also passed over a $27.2 million rehabilitation of the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, for which the Ogdensburg Bridge and Port Authority had applied.


The two north country projects were among dozens of projects around New York that the federal Transportation Department bypassed. One project in the state received funding: the transformation of a historic post office in Manhattan into a new passenger rail station to replace Penn Station, for $83 million out of $98.2 million requested. It was the third-largest grant in the country.


Just 51 projects were funded nationwide.


The announcements illustrated the Obama administration's emphasis on rail and mass transit projects, which received the bulk of funding. A spokeswoman for USDOT said Friday that an additional $600 million will be distributed later this year through a separate program but that officials will not decide on the criteria or other details until this spring.


The passing-over of the connector road leaves supporters eyeing two other possible funding sources: the additional $600 million, and any transportation money Congress might allocate through a job creation bill. A spokeswoman for Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said the senator aims to secure more highway funding through that bill, although the legislation has been stalled in the Senate owing to partisan divisions.


In its application for connector funding, the New York Department of Transportation noted Fort Drum's growth and economic impact, the increased traffic resulting from post expansion and construction-related jobs. The application states flatly that the project is meant "to prevent base closure," although the Pentagon has given no indication of seeking further closures anytime soon.


The project would create as many as 248 jobs at a time, during the busiest phase of construction next year, the state DOT estimated.


USDOT already has committed to $1.4 million in construction. In its TIGER funding application, the state DOT put its own share of the construction funding at $16.6 million.

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