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Rochester doubling down on Inner Loop plans

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Rochester wants to fill in this section of the moat-like Inner Loop. The mayor thinks a final design will up the odds of landing federal funding.

This is a how the city of Rochester describes its Inner Loop:

The Inner Loop Expressway rings the City of Rochester’s Central Business District like a noose, strangling the downtown area from adjacent vibrant densely-populated neighborhoods.

The above is from a failed 2009 application [PDF] for $22.5 million in federal transportation funding. Late last year, the city struck out again with the feds - this time in a bid for a $14.7 million TIGER grant.

Now, in a letter to City Council, Mayor Tom Richards wants to spend $2 million for another shot at filling in the city's sunken expressway.

"Part of those grant applications is: The closer you are to actually building something, the better you look in the grantee's eyes," says Rochester city engineer Jim McIntosh.

Mayor Richards wants to shift around almost $400,000 in city funds and appropriate a $1.6 million chunk of anticipated federal highway aid.

Almost all of the money would go to engineering firm Stantec to draw up designs for a street level boulevard.

McIntosh says it's all in an effort to produce a more competitive application for the next round of TIGER grants. 

"We're going to hope for better this time," McIntosh says.

Bridging the "moat"

"We have a tendency in Rochester to stall out," says Larry Glazer, CEO of Buckingham Properties.

As one of Rochester's leading developers, Glazer has been watching the Inner Loop closely. His Alexander Park development would stand to benefit from better access to downtown Rochester.

"Places like the South Wedge and East Avenue and Alexander Park would be connected to downtown without having to cross that moat," says Glazer.

Glazer says he's met with the city to emphasize the economic development impact of creating eight new acres of prime downtown real estate.

Next steps

City engineer McIntosh says the $2 million in planning money will get the Inner Loop project closer to the finish line.

"You know, it took us close to seven or eight years to get to this point," says McIntosh.

"Depending on how we do in this next round of TIGER grants, we're either going to see actual work on this project in 2013 ... or we're going to look for other funding opportunities" with final design in hand.

The Rochester City Council is scheduled to take up the mayor's request later this week.

WXXI/Finger Lakes reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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