** But its latest “build it and they will come” campaign for a companion bridge disregards the facts and the law. **
The Buffalo News editorial staff certainly is persistent. For years, they have shamelessly hawked the concept of a new bridge between Buffalo, New York and Fort Erie, Ontario, while refusing to responsibly address the adverse impacts the existing Peace Bridge has on the adjacent residential community.
Back in 2008, when plans for a so-called “signature” span were prudently scuttled, Western New York’s largest newspaper demanded “an iconic bridge”, and impudently proclaimed, “We are One Buffalo. We do not have to settle for second-rate.”
Three years later, when the Peace Bridge Authority announced that neither a new bridge, nor a “grand plaza” on the U.S. side, would be happening, a truculent editorial asked supporters of a dramatic new span “to remain on duty” and to continue the quest for “the ultimate goal” – delivery of a new bridge.
This past week, the BN’s uncontrollable desire to preach the need – and, from its perspective, the right to a new bridge – was re-aroused. It didn’t take much. The stimulus this time was a recent comment by the Peace Bridge Authority’s Canadian chairman – Anthony M. Annunziata – asserting the need for a new companion span between Canada and the U.S.
Without missing a beat, the Buffalo News October 16th editorial elevates Annunziata’s words to near-mythic proportions, proclaiming that the Canadian chairman’s utterance has brought “the idea of a companion span to the Peace Bridge explod[ing] into public consciousness again.” Such hyperbole (rather than informed reflection) can be expected from an insufferable new-bridge-addict. But a more realistic response is the one expressed by New York State Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan, D-Buffalo. As reported in an October 10, 2015 article in the Buffalo News, Ryan characterized Annunziata’s suggestion as “careless,” suggested that the removal of the threat of eminent domain and construction of a new bridge has helped bring a measure of stability to the adjoining West Side neighborhood, and opined: “Clearly, Chairman Annunziata has gone rogue.”
In contrast to the reality-check provided by Assemblyman Ryan, the BN editorial team instinctively asserts – without any objective support – the potential for “huge” benefits for Western New York if a companion span is built. Readers are assured that Buffalo and Western New York will “thrive” when delays at the Peace Bridge are reduced and Canadians overcome their “avoidance behavior” and once again flock to the U.S. to shop and entertain themselves.
The Buffalo News isn’t about to let hard facts moderate it’s proselytizing. While “new bridge” proponents previously justified calls for a new bridge by pointing to statistics reflecting an increasing number of vehicles utilizing the international crossing, the opposite is true today. As acknowledged in the October 16th opinion piece, vehicular traffic at the Peace Bridge is down significantly. Traffic numbers available at the bridge’s website show that automobile trips between Buffalo and Fort Erie have declined nearly 37% between 2003 and 2014.
From the BN’s perspective, however, reduced traffic at the Peace Bridge is now a reason to construct a second span. If you build a companion bridge, the argument goes, our Canadian neighbors will be freed from their debilitating fear of long lines and delays, and once again have the strength and confidence to regularly visit Western New York’s stores, eateries, and entertainment venues.
This simplistic scenario not only underestimates the intelligence and psychological resilience of Canadians, it disregards the statement in the October 10, 2015 article that average wait times in 2015 for Canada-bound autos crossing the Peace Bridge is a mere 2.3 minutes [that’s 138 seconds], and 5.1 minutes for U.S.-bound autos [that’s 306 seconds]. Such delays can hardly explain the “avoidance” phenomenon heralded by Chairman Annunziata and the BN editorial team, and do not begin to justify the expense, disruption, and environmental costs of constructing and operating a new bridge.
Even if we assumed for the sake of argument that the scenario envisioned by the Buffalo News and other supporters of a new bridge somehow matches reality, there exists no basis in law to treat the international crossing as it is viewed by the author(s) of BN’s editorial – nothing more than another cog in Western New York’s economic development engine to be stimulated and subsidized by state and federal money.
The Peace Bridge Authority, as noted at its website, is an international entity “created pursuant to a compact entered into by the State of New York, with the consent of the United State Congress, and by the Government of Canada.” The international compact, approved by Congress in 1934, and amended with the approval of Congress in 1957, mandates a self-sustaining facility that relies solely upon funds it collects in the operation of its properties (such as tolls, rentals, commissions) to cover not only operating expenses, but “all capital replacements, reconstructions and improvements.”
In light of the restrictions contained in the international compact, dreams of a companion for the old Peace Bridge – whether iconic, twin, or merely functional – should be put on hold unless and until traffic levels are sufficient to generate the funds needed to fill a “capital improvement” piggy bank. And, even then, any proposal to build a new bridge will have to be preceded by an environmental review that performs two critical functions: a thorough and objective assessment of potential adverse impacts of such a span on human health, the character of the surrounding neighborhood, traffic patterns, noise, migrating birds, etc.; and, a detailed evaluation of all reasonable alternatives (including the removal of all truck traffic from the international crossing between Buffalo and Fort Erie).
With All Due Respect,