BUFFALO, NY - Congressional representatives from Western New York - from both sides of the aisle - are vowing that some long awaited improvements to the U.S. side of the Peace Bridge are finally going to happen.
They also promise that once the improvements are made, it will reduce crossing delays by up to 50-percent, while increasing security at the border.
“It’s moving a lot of this infrastructure that is currently on the American plaza to the Canadian side,” said U.S. Rep Brian Higgins (D-South Buffalo) who says he is working closely with U.S. Rep Chris Collins (R-Clarence) to make the improvements a reality.
That means moving all the electronic inspection equipment such as x-ray devices, radiation scanners, and facial recognition cameras, as well as the pre- inspection of U.S. bound trucks with to Fort Erie, where there's a lot more room and a lot less people that might be impacted by the adverse effects of idling trucks.
Higgins also predicted those improvements, coupled with an eventual re-design of the American plaza, will reduce the average wait time into the U.S. (currently seven minutes), by half.
“You will see the qualitative benefits that will accrue based on these improvements," Higgins said.
Long Time Coming.
Even though improving the American plaza at the busy border crossing has been something that has been discussed for decades, Higgins says there is reason to be optimistic that the plans may finally come to fruition.
“We are going to have a new plaza in cooperation with the Peace Bridge Authority and customs and border protection agents," said Higgins, while noting that after years of wrangling, all sides are now in agreement on the plan after meetings in Washington last week.
“I think we have a common sense solution,” Collins told WGRZ-TV by phone from Washington.
“This is the next step get a new plaza built and something we can be proud of. It’s a bi partisan effort, and I am happy to stand with Congressman Higgins on something we can move forward with.”
Time Is Ripe.
While Higgins recently pulled his support for expanding metro rail to Amherst, in part because the climate for funding transit projects in Washington isn't favorable, he doesn’t see a problem getting the estimated $75 million needed for this project.
“On the money part, you are talking about $1 billion for the extension of the light rail rapid transit system, said Higgins, while noting there's an important distinction between metro rail, and this project, which he thinks the White House will fully support.
"The one thing the President is talking about affirmatively is border protection," said Higgins.
The technology improvements, including moving of the high tech equipment to the Canadian Side, can begin this year, according to Collins.
However, the full scale realignment of the plaza will require an environmental impact statement which could take at least two years to complete before construction can begin.
“A new plaza would have more inspection booths like we see on the [Canadian] side. So we’ll be looking at 3-5 years out before it’s done. I think that would be a reasonable time frame,” Collins said.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dave Harrington.