Peace Bridge Authority to Move Forward With Plaza Renovations

January 10, 2012 Updated Jan 11, 2012 at 12:15 AM EDT

By WKBW News

January 10, 2012 Updated Jan 11, 2012 at 12:15 AM EDT

Buffalo, N.Y. (WKBW release) -- The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority on Tuesday announced that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has formally terminated the decade long Peace Bridge Expansion Project environmental review process.

This decision follows extensive consultation with federal and state agencies, and was undertaken in light of recognition that the U.S. plaza design requirements – crafted to meet the objectives of the project – caused the overall costs to escalate beyond available funding levels.

“The public has known since last summer that the Expansion Project as originally envisioned would not be proceeding and today’s notification officially confirms that fact,”  Authority Chairman Anthony Annunziata said in a news release. “There remains little doubt though that the current plaza is woefully inadequate and in desperate need of reconfiguration and renovation to meet today’s security and processing requirements, as well as to improve aesthetics and environmental conditions.

“Many years were spent on the Expansion Project effort, and while its conclusion is disappointing, in this difficult fiscal environment we are fortunate to be positioned to heed Governor Cuomo’s recent calls for infrastructure improvement solutions that access what available capital there is, in order to get shovels in the ground and people working immediately. That is why we view this decision positively, because it allows the Authority to reassess what we can do on our own accord without federal tax dollars to improve the functionality of the plaza for the benefit of the neighborhood and the Buffalo Niagara region as a whole.”

In moving forward with much-needed port enhancements, the PBA will undertake a series of operational improvements and construction projects utilizing its own, already secured financial resources. Some of these enhancements may require the acquisition of municipal right-of-way and private property prior to proceeding, though to a far smaller extent than previous expansion project plans. Plaza renovation concepts are currently being reviewed by the U.S. General Services Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and should be available in the near future.

“There is no question that we have listened and responded to comments regarding neighborhood incursion, residential relocations, historic preservation, and environmental concerns and are now pleased to be advancing critical border improvements on a smaller scale that will still be useful, but eliminate many of the impacts anticipated by the original expansion plan,” said Chairman Annunziata.

This decision and the proposed renovation concepts retain the possibility to relocate commercial primary Customs inspection for U.S.-bound trucks over to Canada in accordance with the recent “Beyond the Border Action Plan” announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in December 2011. While the Authority strongly advocates for this border management solution to be implemented, the timing and decision as to whether it occurs rests solely with the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada.

A number of area lawmakers also weighed in on the topic, releasing statements. They are as follows:

United States Congressman Brian Higgins

“Backups at the Peace Bridge continue to delay and discourage economic opportunity for Western New York and the entire nation,” said U.S. Congressman Brian Higgins. “It’s time to refocus on a plaza reconfiguration, streamlined crossing procedures, and long overdue bridge construction as we work to provide the additional capacity needed to support and grow the vast economic activity and over one million jobs that are directly linked to the Peace Bridge.”

United States Congresswoman Louise Slaughter

“More cars cross into Canada at the Peace Bridge than anywhere else along the northern border, which is why it’s so important that we make the process more efficient,” said U.S. Congresswoman Louise Slaughter. “Buffalo has suffered frustrating delays with the Peace Bridge and improvement of the Customs area is one thing we can and must get to work on.”

United States Congresswoman Kathy Hochul

“The Peace Bridge is one of region's largest economic catalysts,” said U.S. Congresswoman Kathy Hochul. “The people and products that cross this border each and every day directly stimulate our economy through tourism and commerce, which is why immediate improvements and renovations are necessary to our community's long-term economic sustainability.”

PBA Vice Chairman & Empire State Development Regional President Sam Hoyt

“Today begins a fresh chapter in Western New York’s history. The path towards new plaza improvements is clear, allowing us to really focus on innovative, technology-driven ideas about enhancing the way our port-of-entry functions,” said Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority Vice Chairman and Empire State Development Regional President Sam Hoyt.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

“Canadian shoppers spend millions of dollars at Western New York stores, restaurants, and attractions every year,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “Meanwhile, Erie County manufacturers like Ford and General Motors rely on the border to transport goods back and forth between their operations in Ontario. These are just a few examples of why concluding the Expansion Project saga and getting going on real, obtainable congestion solutions is the only viable path forward.”

New York State Senator Tim Kennedy

“As Governor Cuomo remarked last week in his State of the State address, the advancement of innovative solutions to long-standing statewide infrastructure issues is both necessary and imperative to the long-term economic health of our great state,” said New York State Senator Tim Kennedy. “If congestion reductions and facility improvements at the Peace Bridge can be reached through renovations and individualized port projects, then that is what we must do to ensure the continued growth of binational trade and tourism between Western New York and Southern Ontario.”

New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan

“Today’s announcement offers Buffalo and Western New York an opportunity to begin balancing the need to improve the flow of commerce at the Peace Bridge with related community impacts in a much more effective and citizen-conscious manner,” said New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan. “Lessening the burden of commercial traffic on Buffalo's neighborhoods will help to improve air quality which will hopefully improve the health of west side residents. At the same time, improving the flow of goods and people across the border is an objective that a renovated more efficient plaza can most certainly bring about.”

Buffalo Niagara Partnership President & Chief Executive Officer Andrew Rudnick

“Trade and tourism across the Peace Bridge has an enormous impact on Buffalo Niagara’s regional economy,” said Buffalo Niagara Partnership President and Chief Executive Officer Andrew Rudnick. “Our bi-national relationship is among our most unique and competitive assets for economic development, and for a long time a U.S. plaza that has insufficient capacity to meet the demands of Peace Bridge traffic has been an impediment to the free follow of goods and people across the CanAm border. So, on behalf of the Partnership’s 2,500 member employers – many of whom directly depend on effective and efficient Peace Bridge and plaza, I welcome this announcement by the Federal Highway Administration, and look forward to the next steps in finally moving this project to reality.”