BUFFALO, NY - "People are frustrated about that and I get it... believe me," said Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo) regarding the latest proposal concerning the Peace Bridge, which seems to indicate those hoping for a new span between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ontario will be waiting for several more years.
After more than a decade of debate, and at least $20 million in taxpayer funded studies, there is still no signature span...or even a twin bridge as once envisioned.
What we may see instead is a larger traffic plaza on the US side, albeit scaled down from what had previously been proposed under an updated plan released Friday.
"I went to my first Peace Bridge meeting in the spring of 1998," recalled Buffalo YWCA Executive Director Deborah Lynn Williams, who 13 years ago was part of the New Millennium Group, comprised of young professionals dedicated to fostering a renaissance in Western New York.
Williams rejects the notion that nothing was gained from the considerable time and money expended thus far on the Peace Bridge issue.
"Any time you spend time advocating for something to be better in your community, no matter what it is, it's not wasted time. I think what we got were some really good proposals that were on the board that could be pursued, I think we have a lot of data on traffic that we didn't have before and need, and I think we have fabulous data on air quality issues that we didn't have before," Williams told WGRZ-TV.
"We could have gone and rushed into that early decision and spent $300 million for a big massive project that would have been the wrong thing...and perhaps would have been infrastructure that was much larger than we need," she said.
Liz Martina lives in a home on Buffalo's west side which was once fated for demolition, but which would now be spared under the latest plan.
"That part of it is a win," Martina told 2 on Your Side.
But she still worries about the potentially harmful effects from the exhaust of trucks passing a stone's throw from her house, even though the new plan purports to ease those concerns, because the trucks would mostly be inspected --and therefore idle-- on the Canadian side.
"That's like saying you might be a little less sick ....the trucks will still be driving by here...I have a grandson living next door to me now and those little lungs are very vulnerable," she said.
Martina says she wouldn't be entirely satisfied unless the trucks are banned from the bridge all together.
"Get the trucks out of the neighborhood...they could accommodate them at the Lewiston-Queenston border," she said, while noting the area surrounding that span several miles north of the peace Bridge is more sparsely populated. "There's a lot more land and a lot more room, so why not expand there?" she asked.
"I would like to see a new bridge if we need a new bridge, but mostly I would like to see whatever project gets built to not be harmful to our community both from an air quality standpoint and an economic standpoint," said Williams. "I think when you know better... you do better...and I think we did better in the sense that this new proposal is a really good step in the right direction."
Higgins agrees, and predicts there will be a new Peace Bridge...some day.
"I think we'll see progress on the Peace Bridge for the first time in two decades over the next three years. This (the new plaza) it will allow us to get something done so we can get to the second component, which is the span itself," he said.
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