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Sherman Says: Peace Bridge deal may not be the final solution for New York and Canada

SPRINGVILLE — Call me cautious, but I still have my fingers crossed about the recent announcement that New York state and Canada had finally reached an agreement for the future of the over-burned Peace Bridge between the two nations.

On June 26, the two entities revealed an agreement to speed up improvements to the American side of the span, after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and ambassadors from both countries intervened in a sticky stalemate that had threatened the bridge’s binational governing board.

Last month, the Senate and state Assembly approved a measure that would dissolve the deadlocked, 10-member Peace Bridge Authority, which is comprised of five Canadian and five American members. Cuomo continued negotiations with Canadian officials. The legislation, which angered Canadians, was swept away, thanks to last week’s agreement, according to The Associated Press.

The Peace Bridge’s future has been uncertain for more than a decade and a sudden coup d’état by Cuomo is not a guaranteed solution. The bridge issue has been an inconvenient truth to both governments, for as long as we can remember.

The U.S. side of the bridge soars out of an historic neighborhood that is desperate to preserve its identity and remain a proud viewing point of the Niagara River. A statue to Commodore Matthew Perry still faces the winds of a 200-year-old war.

The agreement requires the state’s Empire State Development Corp. to acquire a vacant building and a street adjacent to the plaza, for the creation of a neighborhood buffer.

Although potentially damaging to Buffalo’s west side, the plan is better than one which would have eviscerated the neighborhood, by creating a diesel-rich customs plaza where it did not belong.

The new agreement maps out $140 million in projects to be undertaken simultaneously, beginning this month, with another traffic study that has its eye on widening the plaza.

It also calls for preparation to begin immediately, regarding a program that would allow for primary inspection of American-bound freight trucks on the Canadian side and accelerates plans to reconfigure traffic flow, coming in and out of the plaza.

These are positive steps, achieved with the understanding of how the Ontario side of the bridge is lined with green space and additional roadways’ terminating at the river. Buffalo’s parallel neighborhood is framed by vintage, single-family homes and a splendid mix of residential, commercial and cultural properties.

Homeowners’ rights must be respected, as this latest power play from the governor is brought closer to reality.

Unfortunately, we will never know if a second bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie could have been a superior solution. We will never know if a dramatic “super span” could have brought positive attention to the border crossing, which ranks in passenger traffic and third in commercial truck traffic, among all northern border crossings. This bridge handles about 6 million vehicles each year, but will continue to have only cosmetic upgrades, rather than an expansion or replacement.

Cuomo and Canadian officials may have shaken hands on this plan, but place the blame for the contemporary crisis on the architects and planners who chose this location, instead of one which would have spotted the bridge closer to Black Rock or even contemporary Riverside.

Canadians must still be smiling, when they consider what little impact the Peace Bridge had, on Garrison Road and its tributaries. Buffalo was outfitted with an octopus more than a century ago, one that even Cuomo can’t contain.

“It has to be resolved, one way or the other,” the governor said. “One way or the other, we need a resolution, because this is just not OK anymore.”

A Cuomo power play won’t end this crisis quite as fast as the governor apparently hopes it will.

If he considers “solving” the Peace Bridge issue his first experience in foreign policy in preparation for a possible 2014 presidential bid, he might want to walk a mile in the shoes of the folks on Busti Avenue.

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author. He can be reached at dsherman@beenews.com.
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