The Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority on Tuesday announced that the U.S. Federal Highway Administration has formally terminated the decade long Peace Bridge Expansion Project environmental review process. The announcement will allow the Authority to take immediate action on plaza construction.
FHWA's decision to withdraw from the project was undertaken in recognition that the U.S. plaza design requirements caused the overall costs to escalate beyond available funding levels.
"The public has known since last summer that the Expansion Project as originally envisioned would not be proceeding and today's notification officially confirms that fact," Authority Chairman Anthony Annunziata said in a news release.
"Many years were spent on the Expansion Project effort, and while its conclusion is disappointing, in this difficult fiscal environment we are fortunate to be positioned to heed Governor Cuomo's recent calls for infrastructure improvement solutions that access what available capital there is, in order to get shovels in the ground and people working immediately. That is why we view this decision positively, because it allows the Authority to reassess what we can do on our own accord without federal tax dollars to improve the functionality of the plaza for the benefit of the neighborhood and the Buffalo Niagara region as a whole," Annunziata said.
In moving forward with much-needed port enhancements, The Authority will begin with several operational improvements using its own, already secured financial resources, reports Buffalo's WKBW News.
Some of these enhancements may require the acquisition of municipal right-of-way and private property prior to proceeding, though to a far smaller extent than previous expansion project plans. Plaza renovation concepts are currently being reviewed by the U.S. General Services Administration and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and should be available in the near future.
Pre-screening in Canada
This decision and the proposed renovation concepts retain the possibility of relocating commercial primary Customs inspection for U.S.-bound trucks to Canada in accordance with the recent "Beyond the Border Action Plan" announced by President Obama and Prime Minister Harper in December 2011.
While the Authority is strongly in favor of this border management solution, the decision on whether it will be implemented, rests with the federal governments of the U.S. and Canada.
On June 30, New York Senator Charles Schumer announced that U.S. Customs and Border Protection had agreed in principle to allow primary screening of inbound trucks on the Canadian side of the bridge.
"Pre-screening trucks on the Canadian side is a game changing innovation that opens the door for a significantly smaller, less-polluting and less-disruptive plaza. This is a critical first step towards untangling the Peace Bridge plaza," Schumer said at the time. "Moving the primary inspection of incoming truck traffic to Canada would be great for New York and Canadian businesses, and could be a key part of the puzzle as we seek to improve the Peace Bridge crossing. With screening moved to the other side of the border, we'll be able to build a more compact Peace Bridge plaza as we continue the effort to build a new bridge."
Late in 2011, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, whose district includes the border crossing connecting Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont., also wrote to Customs and Border Protection requesting an expedited effort on the Peace Bridge construction project including consideration of a reduced footprint for the plaza on the U.S. side of the span.