(Artvoice 27 January  2000)

Peace Bridge Update

by Bruce Jackson

The Peace Bridge Public Review Panel considering bridge and plaza options heard reports last week from its consultants on constraints on construction on the Canadian side and plaza options on the American side.

Roger Dorton, one of the Canadian consultants who joined the process late last year, told the panel that the Canadians like the present bridge more than any alternative and there are archaeological artifacts in the ground around the Canadian plaza which any new construction ideas or plans will have to take into account. Neither of those issues is new.

The archaeological issues have seemed bogus to me all along and still do. The sites and artifacts are certainly real, as are the feelings and interests of Native groups regarding them, but neither sites nor artifacts seemed to present much of a problem when the Canadians were building the huge duty free shop and truck-processing station over the same grounds just a few years ago, so it’s hard to believe that’s either is a real issue now. I bet that when the money for this project starts flowing ways will be found to deal with them, just like last time.

After the discussion of Canadian constraints, American-side consultants Seth Grady and Al Staufler went through the various plaza options. The idea was that they’d describe them and then the panel would ask questions,  helping the consultants get rid of options that didn’t work. But it took Staufler so long to get through the options that there wasn’t any time for discussion.

The diagrams have all been seen and discussed previously. All the current plaza options but one are at or north of the current site. The exception is the southern site proposed long ago by architect Clint Brown and businessman Jack Cullen. Their SuperSpan design was important in opening up this public conversation, but the northern designs seem far more efficient in traffic flow and construction costs. Natalie Harder, director of regional planning for the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, made a motion to cut the Brown-Cullen plaza, but her motion was solidly rejected. So far as I know, hardly anyone on the Panel thinks the southern plaza is at all viable. One panel member said to me later, “I guess everybody wants to be nice to Jack and Clint because they got all this going.” That’s nice, but maybe a thank you and flourish might suffice at this point, given the paucity of time and the amount of work yet to be done. If they keep going over the same ground much more they’ll reach Judge Fahey’s deadline without being anywhere close to finishing the project.

Twice during his presentation Staufler said that the Episcopal Church Home would have to be moved. He said it as if it were on the order of moving the mound of salt road crews escrow in the summer for winter dispensation. Finally former state senator Joseph A. Tuariello blew up. He made an eloquent statement about the importance of that institution to the West Side, how many jobs it provided in a neighborhood where jobs were already scarce. The president of the Episcopal Church Home, Edward C. Weeks, said they very much wanted to stay in the neighborhood, but they were realists and if they had to move they would.

(A suggestion: If it does become necessary to move the Home, perhaps they could move into H.H. Richardson’s  Psychiatric Institute on Forest Avenue. Nobody’s been able to figure out what to do with that architectural classic. It’s got a lot of rooms, trees and grass, off-street parking, and no fumes or noise from trucks.)

The meeting once again made clear the foolishness of trying to isolate planning for the bridge and planning for the plaza (which was long the preference of the Public Bridge Authority and the Buffalo Niagara Partnership), and how much impact the plaza decision will have on Buffalo’s West Side. At the start of this, Canadians were faulting Americans for holding up the bridge construction for mere aesthetic reasons. Now we know that it was just the other way around: the Canadian interest is merely aesthetic and the Americans are forcing the parties to focus on environmental, economic, and social issues.

What happens if the Panel recommends a signature bridge but the Canadians refuse to accept it and the Americans refuse to pour more money in the decaying old three-lane bridge presently in place? Extended deadlock, I guess, which would mean the southbound Canadian trucks wanting to cross here instead of Detroit would have to be routed through Queenston. That only adds about six miles to the trip, no big deal for the truckers and  not necessarily the worst of fates for Buffalo residents worried about air and noise pollution near the plaza. Nobody’s talking seriously about that possibility now, but it may very well be where things end up if the Americans opt for the more economical signature span and the Canadians refuse to give up the old bridge.

copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson

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