The 83-year-old Peace Bridge, for more than 20 years a ground of local conflict, should receive by this summer the final go-ahead to reinvent itself with a twin span between Buffalo, N.Y., and Fort Erie, Ontario.
"We hope for and expect a final decision within a couple of months," Ron Rienas, general manager of the binational authority that operates the bridge, told The Journal of Commerce.
Final approval, from the U.S. Department of Transportation and its agency, the Federal Highway Administration, would be for a four-lane span beside the three-lane Peace Bridge and, just as importantly, a new U.S. customs plaza replacing facilities so cramped that at one stage they were to have been moved to Canada. The Peace Bridge of today is barely adequate for the third-busiest commercial crossing between the United States and Canada. More than 1 million trucks traveled over the Peace Bridge in 2009.
The roughly $700 million project — bridge, plaza, connecting roads — would take "six or seven years" to build and put into operation, Rienas said.
In the meantime, Canada last week began construction of a further improvement to truck processing on its side of the Peace Bridge. In a $2 million project, Canada is building a fifth designated commercial trucking customs booth , approach roads to it, and an upgraded VACIS (Vehicle and Cargo Inspection System), the truck-mounted gamma-ray imaging system that trucks must pass through.
"This one new booth will add 25 percent capacity to our truck-processing capability," Rienas said, and will be in operation this summer. It comes as a further improvement to the $50 million retrofit including a new plaza for the Canadian side of the bridge, completed in 2007.
On the U.S. side, "we are finally getting there," Rienas said. Planning began for a new bridge in 1992; all the many approvals were achieved; construction was to begin in early 1999; and then the roof fell in.
The City of Buffalo, under pressure from community and environmental groups, refused to grant land easements; vocal groups supported by New York Senators wanted a "signature bridge" rather than the workaday bridge planned; supporters of the heritage Front Park protested encroachment by the plaza; lawsuits began. The bridge plan was withdrawn. The whole exhausting process began again.
Then came a Canada-U.S. 2004 agreement to get around the space problems by moving all U.S. customs operations to Fort Erie. The Bush administration scotched that on April 26, 2007, saying negotiations had reached an impasse over incompatible Canadian-American laws regarding customs officers and guns, fingerprinting of people not charged with an offense, and other law enforcement differences.
The end result still isn’t simple. Various American and Canadian authorities have approved not one but five different designs for the new span. They are all quite glamorous "signature spans" that different groups wanted, but they are not a lot different from one another. The last approval has to come from USDOT and the FHWA.
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