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State talks privatization for public infrastructure

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It could happen: This Tappan Zee Bridge back-up brought to you by Pepsi.

New York's Department of Transportation (DOT) is considering "public private partnerships" to help fund infrastructure, reports Rick Karlin at the Times Union.  A DOT official testified during budget hearings yesterday that the $16 billion price tag for a new Tappan Zee bridge makes the idea compelling:

The Cuomo administration hasn't made any overt push for more partnerships, although they were mentioned in one of his campaign briefing books. The governor and his staff are currently focused on completing the 2010-2011 budget by the April 1 deadline. More action on the partnerships could follow the completion of the budget, said one person close to the talks, who recalled that members of the governor's Spending and Government Efficiency commission took a keen interest in roads and bridges early on. New York spends a lot of money on transportation, but unlike sectors such as primary and secondary education -- where power is diffused among hundreds of localities -- the state can have a big impact fairly quickly on how its roads and bridges are funded.

More metro
Buffalo-area transportation agencies are thinking rail, as gas prices creep up.  Robert McCarthy reports at the Buffalo News that planners have begun to study the idea of extending Metro Rail in the region - for the first time in a quarter of a century:

“With gas prices increasing, it very much helps us,” [Niagara Falls Transportation Authority chief Kimberley] Minkel said. “This country is going to have to look at alternative transportation. “It is very much a new day.” Though original plans for Metro Rail called for a more widespread system, and though four possible extension corridors have always been identified, a lack of funds or local political support kept expansion from moving beyond the discussion phase. Indeed, Minkel said the 2001 study could not justify moving beyond the current 6.5- mile system based on criteria of the day. But she said the Federal Transit Administration has now expanded the way it scores “new build” applications, to the point that the NFTA might now be in a position to qualify. “What’s new is the environmental benefit,” she said. “We may score much higher this time around.”

Auto show
Jeffrey Blackwell at the Democrat and Chronicle has the details on this week's Rochester Auto Show.  The big showcase for GM this year is the Chevy Volt:

The automaker's jump into the infant electric car market is now available. The starting list price is about $33,000. The Volt will be the only plug-in electric car at the show. The other entry in the market, the Nissan Leaf, will not be available to the public until later this year. "I think the Volt will be the highlight of the show this year," [Rochester Automobile Dealers' Association president Brad] McAreavy said.

Keep it sober
Students got a chance to drive drunk without facing the consequences on Monday, reports Gene Warner at the Buffalo News.  A traveling "Drinking and Driving Simulator" came to Erie Community College to give students a taste of how challenging impaired driving is:

The simulator doesn't leave the driver feeling lightheaded or woozy. But it does simulate alcohol's effect on a driver's reaction time. "You could come up with a million excuses, but you get a delayed reaction when you drink and drive," said Andrew Tipton, Save A Life Tour manager. "There's just no way of beating a delayed reaction." As Tipton explained, the simulated drivers spend so much energy trying to keep their car on the road that they develop tunnel vision, often failing to see drivers coming from either side and sometimes ignoring the vehicles in front of them. People stop using their mirrors, he said. Sometimes they slow to about 10 mph, or they'll stop way far back for stop lights and stop signs.

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