BUFFALO NEWS: New York State, Canada Announce Peace Bridge Agreement

Mark Grisanti

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Canadian officials this morning announced an agreement concerning improvements at the Peace Bridge.

“We prefer partnership,’’ said Gary Doer, the Canadian ambassador to the United States, of the end to the months-long dispute that seriously tested relations between New York and Canada.

“Some would say we’ve been trying to do this for 20 years,’’ Cuomo said. He said the deal is between Canada and New York and ensures that delays on the Peace Bridge Authority will no longer get in the way. “There’s nothing conceptual here ... This is a very specific plan with projects that we’re committed to.’’

A four-page agreement between New York and Canada, obtained by The Buffalo News this morning, describes a “road map forward for the Peace Bridge,’’ including keeping intact he Peace Bridge Authority and laying out specific project plans for the span.

The document clearly shows how both sides can claim victory in the dispute.

“The development of the Buffalo side of the bridge will be prioritized to improve the US Plaza area and the pre-inspection pilot program will be aggressively pursued to move the inspection booths to the Canada side of the bridge, opening the U.S. plaza and alleviating congestion,’’ states the memo that is called the Peace Bridge Understanding.

The deal calls for three projects to be undertaken simultaneously: studying the U.S. plaza widening, the pre-inspection project to have U.S.-bound cargo trucks inspected on the Canadian side as a way to both reduce congestion and pollution in Buffalo from the long line of idling trucks that now often fill the bridge during busy periods, and various U.S. plaza improvement projects.

It also called for an immediate traffic study of the Buffalo plaza “to evaluate the current traffic configuration.’’ When that is completed, the sides have agreed to pursue improvements to the U.S. plaza, including widening work. It also calls for environmental reviews.

The Buffalo plaza work will cost between $40 million to $50 million, the agreement states, and that will come from Peace Bridge Authority funds. Another $15 million in improvements will be funded by New York state.

Timetables are quick. The traffic study is to begin next month and be done by next April, with preliminary engineering work underway by May 2014.

The pre-inspection program, previously approved as a pilot effort by Washington and Ottawa, will “proceed immediately,’’ depending on any further reviews or approvals. The initial program is to last up to 18 months. The agreement says a permanent, pre-inspection facility in Fort Erie will cost about $30 million “with funding to be determined.’’

The pilot program had been previously set to begin six months after a similar pilot effort has been running between the state of Washington and British Columbia. That would put the Fort Erie program on a schedule to begin next January.

The deal also calls for various plaza improvements that New York state says does not need further environmental reviews. “These projects will be prioritized and accelerated,’’ the deal states.

It says New York will move ahead with a gateway ramp project to connect the plaza with I-190. It envisions that project being completed by December 2015.

The Peace Bridge Authority also is agreeing to move ahead with an approach widening project on the Buffalo side to help separate truck and car traffic. It will be completed by December 2013. Also, the authority and New York will cooperate to buy Busti Avenue “for the purpose of creating a neighborhood buffer and potential other uses subject to further planning.”

Sen. Charles Schumer, who pushed the Obama administration to select the Peace Bridge as one of only two truck pre-inspection pilot programs along the border with Canada, was pleased the battle between the Cuomo administration and Canada is ending.

“It is welcome news that we are moving away from confrontation and towards the cooperation essential for the timely and successful implementation of positive changes at the Peace Bridge, like truck pre-inspection,’’ Schumer said this afternoon. He said the pilot program will reduce congestion and air pollution while giving a boost to the Western New York economy.

“Further, it will provide more flexibility to make necessary improvements to the plaza on the American side,’’ he said, adding that he will push for legislation to make the pre-inspection program permanent after the end of the pilot phase.

The announcement was made at 11 a.m. at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fontana Boathouse near the Peace Bridge.