Peace Bridge: Back to the 90s

STATEMENT FROM THE

WNY LEADERS FOR PEACE BRIDGE PROGRESS

Like most people in Western New York, we have spent the past two decades watching and waiting for a new, more efficient gateway between our community and Southern Ontario. Instead of progress, we have seen debate, delay and dysfunction. This project is too important to allow ego and personal differences to stall this project any longer.

Instead, we will let ego move the process forward!

The “Golden Horseshoe” around the western end of Lake Ontario has a population of 8.76 million people; that is 68% of Ontario residents and 26% of all Canadians. They come to Western New York to take in Sabres and Bills games, enjoy our ski resorts and other recreational opportunities, shop, and most importantly, to conduct business and enrich the economies of both sides.

The American government, addicted to security porn and anti-immigrant animus, has proposed and/or implemented every barrier possible to keep these people on their side of the border. Furthermore, the state of New York and the various and sundry governmental, quasi-governmental, and charitable entities have not yet decided to, e.g., set up a string of information center/rest areas on this side of the Q-L Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, or Peace Bridge to inform and direct Canadian crossers to WNY businesses, attractions, and communities.

For this population, the main crossing into the United States and the City of Buffalo is the Peace Bridge. More than 4.7 million cars and 1.2 million trucks crossed the span last year alone. The sheer volume makes the Peace Bridge one of Western New York’s most important economic engines, and to prevent the progress of improving the American side of the border crossing is to prevent the growth of business, recreation and friendly relations between the United States and our valued neighbor to the North.

Not only that, but if you expand the bridge and plaza capacity, you can minimize idling trucks and cars, the emissions from which are adversely affecting the nearby residents, according to some.

We need to take hold of our own destiny and move proactively toward embracing plans that will allow our great region, on both sides, to grow and prosper. The plan put forth by Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State of New York is the best option to accomplish that. The Governor wants progress for Buffalo and Western New York, and as business people, residents and active members of this great community, so do we.

The Governor? Hasn’t Cuomo ham-handedly allowed his local proxies mercilessly to antagonize the Canadians on the Public Bridge Authority in recent weeks?

Governor Cuomo has promised a beautiful, more efficient plaza in which the PBA and our community could take pride, and one that would improve the border crossing process for both sides. Western New York needs to form a unified front behind the efforts of the people we elected to represent us. That is exactly what we are announcing today.

To be honest, I’m not so sure anyone has described a customs and inspection plaza as “beautiful”, or that anyone has been “proud” of such a structure. I mean, the new plazas on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge and Q-L Bridge are quite nice and efficient, but I think “beautiful” is a stretch. It would, however, be nice if people’s first impression of the United States when crossing from Canada was “hey, these people want me to be here and spend my money”. Instead, they resemble the angry, barely utilitarian, chaotic toll plaza on the Queens end of the Midtown Tunnel.

Western New Yorkers and our guests from Canada should not have to wait for years. They should not have to endure the traffic congestion of maintenance projects only to be followed by years of other projects that don’t actually help move traffic, especially passenger traffic off the plaza more expeditiously. New Yorkers and Canadians alike deserve a better, more functional U.S. Plaza faster.

We’ve gephyrophobically waited for years. I’m not so sure ego will overcome what ego has stalled.

The WNY Leaders for Peace Bridge Progress is a group of community leaders who have joined together to show their support for Governor Cuomo’s efforts to expedite the development of the Peace Bridge US Plaza in a way that maximizes the economic benefit to the WNY economy by reducing congestion and making the plaza more efficient and at the same time improving the quality of life in the immediate neighborhood. The committee is co-chaired by Leonard DePrima, formerly of LiRo Engineers and former Chief Engineer and Deputy Executive Director of the NYS Thruway Authority, Laura Zaepfel, Vice President at Uniland Development and Paul Brown, President of the WNY Building Trades Association.

Sounds like this was pulled together in response to this and this.

The WNY Leaders for Peace Bridge Progress

Co-Chairs: Leonard DePrima, Laura Zaepfel, Paul Brown

Cliff Benson Robert Gioia John Koelmel Jonathan Dandes Anthony Conte Rocco Termini

Mark Croce Doug May Alan Pero Paul Ciminelli Victor Martucci Sam Savarino

Robbie Ann McPherson Matt Connors Colleen DiPirro David Rivera Geno Russi

Joel Giambra Kelly Thompson Robert Kresse James Newman Rev. Michael Chapman

Isn’t that an interesting collection of political, development, charitable, and union leaders? It’s as if someone went around and wanted to ensure that this humble group of leaders had enough juice to offer credibility and a second look at the chronic Peace Bridge stasis.

As far as I can tell, however, the most palpable public health problem affecting the community-at-large is a dire case of Peace Bridge Fatigue. Any excitement or public desire for a signature bridge or a crossing that looks world-class rather than second-rate has been beaten into apathy by lawsuits, arguments, the Common Tern, and general political dysfunction. As I suggested last year, it may instead be time to simply demolish the Peace Bridge altogether.

This all seems so 1999. Thanks for trying, though.

Trucks Use Bridges

An expanded inspections plaza, moved farther down Front Park, will speed the inspections process and minimize truck and car idling at the Peace Bridge. Trucks, incidentally, use bridges, and advances in clean diesel technology in recent years, starting with the total introduction of ultra-low sulfur diesel a few years ago, means that the trucks now are far cleaner than they were at any time in history. 

Andrew Cuomo is in a position whereby he has to act in the best interests of the state – not one certain activist group or neighborhood organization or city or county or region. He’s determined that speedier, more efficient inspections are important for everybody. 

The bridge isn’t going anywhere, and the status quo actually does more harm to people than it needs to. If you want asthma rates to decrease on the west side of Buffalo, I don’t know why you’d want to retain the current, antiquated inspection plaza and not want some sort of change. 

Demolish the Peace Bridge

Buffalo and Detroit have a lot in common. They’re both big Great Lakes cities that have become shadows of their former selves. They share similar socioeconomic problems, similar planning problems, similar fiscal issues, and both harken back to the days of America’s industrial heyday. 

But while Detroit is developing an image for being the heart of the American auto industry and making no excuses for it, Buffalo is instead relying on a more effete reliance on architecture, places that “matter”, and emotion to build its image in the 21st century.  It’s the difference between these two videos: 

 

Where one is brash and unapologetically so, the other is maudlin. While one looks forward, the other looks backwards. It is as stark a contrast between visions for rebranding similarly situated cities as you’ll find. 

It’s time to demolish the Peace Bridge. Between Detroit and Niagara County, they’ve got it all under control. 

For the “looking forward” crowd in Buffalo, one of the bigger embarrassments is the 20 year story of the Peace Bridge. Our cross-border traffic with Canada isn’t only important for importing and exporting goods, it’s somewhat important for travelers whom Buffalo is seeking to bring in from Canada to visit museums, eat at restaurants, and see architecture. The fact that – 20 years on – the Peace Bridge remains today on the American side almost exactly as it did in 1990 is a civic punch line. 

We went from twin span to signature span to signature companion span to shortened signature companion span to, “hey, maybe we can build a larger inspection plaza to get traffic moving and reduce inbound backups on the bridge.” None of these is likely to happen.  Opponents of the bridge are against expansion because several buildings – which the Peace Bridge Authority already owns – will be demolished to make way for it.  

But one of the other characteristics that Detroit shares with Buffalo is a river crossing with Canada. While Buffalo wrings its hands over a bridge expansion, Detroit just approved construction of a new bridge to Windsor – and it’s even more controversial there because in Detroit a private company runs a bridge and is vehemently opposed to the competition.  Bridging our connections to Canada – or improving the ones we have – may not be something that’s critically important now, but it’s something that would position Buffalo for future growth and expansion of cross-border trade and travel. 

Congressman Brian Higgins has been fighting for Peace Bridge expansion, and released a statement yesterday that was practically chiding Buffalo for a missed opportunity – one that Mayor Brown is abetting

Congressman Brian Higgins stood by the Peace Bridge in Buffalo and called on Western New York leaders, residents and businesses to join him in the fight against the inertia.  Higgins used Friday’s announcement of a deal for a new international border crossing between Detroit and Canada as an example of how delays and obstruction are costing this community jobs and economic opportunity. 

 “While Western New York is finding ways to block, other communities are finding ways to build,” said Congressman Higgins.  “The complacency and resistance to change that has been pervasive in Buffalo for fifty years will continue to cost us if we don’t act now.”

 In an agreement between the state of Michigan and Canada announced June 15, the two governments will move forward on construction of a New International Trade Crossing between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario.  As a part of the deal, Canada will fund Michigan’s share of the project, up to $550 million, toward the $2 billion span. 

 A study released by the Center for Automotive Research found that the Detroit project will create approximately 12,000 jobs per year during the 4-year construction phase and another 8,000 permanent jobs will be created in the vicinity of the new bridge and the greater region as a result of new economic activity. 

 Congressman Higgins, a champion for the addition of new capacity at the international Peace Bridge crossing between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, added,  “Incessant squabbling  only leads to inertia.  Be it the waterfront, the Peace Bridge or the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, it is time to fight against the fight and together fight for progress and all the good that comes with it”…

…Higgins asserted, “Public infrastructure is a public responsibility. In addition to historically low rates of borrowing, the “cost acceleration” of delaying road and bridge repair increases by 500% after only two years. Put simply, a $5 million bridge repair project will cost $25 million in 2014. The time to rebuild America is now, actually right now.”

Al Coppola was once a State Senator and most recently known for threatening to move the “Pan Am House” from Delaware Avenue to a location near the Peace Bridge so as to halt any demolitions. (Then-Assemblyman Sam Hoyt had some choice words in reaction to that scheme

Coppola claims he’s now running as a Democrat to replace Mark Grisanti, and penned this article for Buffalo Rising. In short, Mr. Coppola argues not just for halting the expansion of the Peace Bridge, but for getting rid of it altogether. He also gets in a dig at the Peace Bridge Authority, arguing that they want to destroy a neighborhood to build a bigger duty free shop. It’s always best to demonize your opponent, rather than just argue your own point. 

It wasn’t the idea of anyone alive to put an international bridge crossing smack next to a residential neighborhood, but that’s what we have. To argue about noise pollution or emissions now is to argue for its removal, not for the status quo. It may be time, therefore, to demolish the Peace Bridge and dramatically expand capacity in Niagara County to connect the 405 to the I-190. 

A signature bridge is never, ever going to happen. Not in my lifetime, not in yours. Neither is an expanded plaza. Neither is the park that the New Millenium Group – which was once a big proponent of a signature span – was promoting. 

The Ambassador Bridge to Black Rock? Not going to happen. No one’s going to build a plaza and new interchange on the US side with the Scajaquada and 190 right there, particularly given the fact that the push now is to downgrade the Scajaquada to a boulevard of some sort.

While an ideal crossing would be across the river just south of Grand Island, so that it would connect up with the I-290 and I-190, that disturbs residential neighborhoods in Canada.

Instead, we should completely jettison the Peace Bridge expansion altogether and instead increase capacity at Queenston-Lewiston. That single span gets a tremendous amount of truck and vehicular traffic, and recently received an upgrade to five lanes. The Q-L bridge provides direct access on both sides of the span to a major highway; the 405 to the QEW on the Canadian side, and the I-190 on the US side.

If there was any semblance of forward-thinking on the part of the CVB, it would already have been in talks to develop and construct a gorgeous visitor’s center that is run locally – not from Albany. Lease some Thruway property from the Authority and give border crossers a reason to come to a whole host of attractions in Western New York. The fact that there is no “Welcome to New York” or “Welcome to WNY” center on this side of the border underscores just how backwards and simple our supposed tourism promoters are. They’re at Thruway rest areas, but not at the border. How patently stupid; you have to wait until you get to Pembroke or Angola – well on your way out of the metro area.

There comes a time when you just say “enough”. The Peace Bridge project has spent ten years in environmental review, design review, and negotiations over the now-dead shared border management. We can sit and wait another few years for a new administration to change its mind, but it’s been almost ten years now that nothing tangible has happened. The preservation community has drawn a line in the sand as far as the neighborhood that would be adversely affected by a new plaza on the Buffalo side, and – let’s be honest – scary Al Coppola’s scary threat to move his shack to the west side is scary persuasive. 

So screw it. Enough. Everybody wins.

Expand the Queenston-Lewiston bridge with a second, signature span across the Niagara River, right at the escarpment with a gorgeous view of the meandering river leading to Youngstown, and Lake Ontario beyond. Maybe two spans, and we demolish the Peace Bridge.  This way, Niagara County can benefit from cross-border trade and traffic, and Buffalo can figure out ways to get Canadian visitors to make their way south from the outlet mall and west from the Walden Galleria. 


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