(Artvoice 17 February 2000)

The PBA’s Ex-Lax Initiative
by Bruce Jackson

It was hard to avoid the commercials on Buffalo radio and tv stations last week urging an immediate start of construction on the Peace Bridge. If you had your radio tuned to WBUF-FM 92.9 on Friday, for example, you would have heard the ads at  11:18 a.m. , 4:49 p.m. , and 6:18 p.m. Same thing on a half-dozen other local radio stations. If you had your tv set tuned to WKBW, WIVB or WGRZ, you’d have gotten the video equivalent of the same message in the late afternoon, early evening, mid-evening, and just before midnight. They ran day and night through much of the past week, again and again and again. They’re scheduled to keep running right up to the day Judge Eugene Fahey responds to the Public Consensus Review Panel’s final report.

When I first heard the radio ad I thought they were trying to sell a laxative. They kept talking about the need to move. Here’s a full transcript with the words the speakers stressed italicized:

Her: If we don’t move we lose.
Him: We’ve already lost over 16,000 jobs.
Her: And 60 000 people, many of them our children and grandchildren, have left town for better opportunities.
Him: That’s why this community’s top priority is new jobs and economic growth.
Her: What’s the answer? The growth of North American trade and tourism can create new   jobs and economic growth.
Him: But if we don’t build a new peace bridge now we’ll lose that chance to other border crossings
Her: Along with the good paying jobs and new investments Buffalo and the Niagara region need so desperately.
Him: It’s time to move.
Her: Business and labor leaders have teamed up to support building a new bridge now.
Him: And build it without taxpayer money.
Her: After five years of study it’s really quite simple.
Him: Building a new bridge is about jobs and economic growth.
Her: We can build a new peace bridge now. Without taxpayer money.
Him: Say yes to starting peace bridge construction now.
Her: Because if we don’t move we lose. [slight pause] Endorsed by labor and business who support jobs and economic growth.

None of the radio or tv spots identified the advertiser. Ads in which the sponsor hides are very rare. I called the radio and tv stations that aired the ads and none would tell me who bought the time. They were all apologetic about it; most said something on the order of, “We’ve like to tell you but we’ve been told not to.” One sales manager said, “If this was a political ad, that information would have to be made public. But this isn’t a political ad.” I asked what it was, then. “A public information ad.” I asked if the providers of information to the public had to identify themselves. “No,” he said.

The ads were commissioned and paid for by the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, using money you and I paid to cross the Niagara River.

Here are some of the ways the ads try to deceive:

---The ad implies a direct connection between the date bridge construction begins and growth of jobs and tourism in the area. If there is any connection, it’s their hurried and ill-considered plan that will cause the most harm, since their plan will take at least three years longer, cost far more for immediate construction and long-term maintenance, and cause far more disruption than any of the other proposed plans.

---Which labor and business organizations, exactly, endorsed the ad? The ad only says that they’ve got on their side the labor and business people who “support jobs and economic growth,” implying that anyone who does not want to have a movement now is opposed to both.

—Of course taxpayer money is being used in the bridge construction project. Taxpayers pay the bridge tolls. Taxpayers pay for maintenance of I-190 and its access roads upon which the PBA’s beloved truck traffic is totally dependent. Taxpayers pay for maintenance of Buffalo city streets utilized by the small portion of those trucks not headed for distant markets. Taxpayers paid for Front Park, which the PBA has gobbled up and destroyed for its current office and truck plaza. Taxpayers pay for the environmental effects of all those noxious truck emissions. Taxpayers are the major contributors to this project, however much the Bridge Authority board members want to deny it.

—When the PBA says “no taxpayer money” is being used, what they really mean is they’re not taking US government grants for the bridge construction segment of their project (they will take it for the plaza construction segment five years from now). Thanks to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a huge amount of federal money is available to reduce the costs of this specific bridge construction. The PBA has refused to accept those funds because they come with a condition the PBA finds intolerable: they would have had to do a full Environmental Impact Statement, which means they would have to consult with the community before they build. Rather than take advantage of that federal money set aside for this purpose from tax dollars we’ve already paid, they’ve elected to increase bridge tolls. That means they’re making us pay twice for the same bridge.

— What, exactly, is so simple after five years of study, and to whom? Simpletons, maybe, which is what the ad takes the listeners and viewers to be. The PBA never studied the key issues; they’ve only issued documents about what they wanted to do. They excluded a signature span years ago and refused ever since to consider anything but its plan to twin a seventy-year-old bridge design using fifty-year-old construction technology. The only reason they’re in so much legal trouble now is because they engaged in so many twists and turns to avoid the Environmental Impact Statement.

The specific purpose of the blizzard of ads on Buffalo radio and television stations  is to undermine the work of the Public Bridge Review Panel and its American and Canadian technical consultants. It is also to put pressure on the mayor and Common Council so they will stop insisting that the PBA act in the public interest. It was only a few months ago that the PBA promised Judge Eugene Fahey that it would cooperate with the Review Panel’s  inquiry into bridge and plaza design. I guess it figures that spending a huge amount of money deceiving the public about the work of that Panel doesn’t betray that promise.

This aggressive and misleading advertising campaign shows why the Public Bridge Review Panel must remain firm in its commitment to the citizens of this area. It shows why the mayor and Common Council must resist the PBA’s recent burst of intense personal lobbying as well. And it shows the public how well served it was when Judge Fahey’s refused to let the PBA bully its way through.

As we’ve pointed out in these pages before, if you call the PBA office an automated phone system tells you you’ve reached the “Peace Bridge Authority,” which is not their name. Their name is the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority. They don’t like having the word in their title and they go to great lengths to avoid using it and even greater lengths to avoid the responsibility it implies. The Public Bridge Authority board meeting at which the decision was made to spend so much public money on this advertising campaign took place behind closed doors. The PBA doesn’t think it has to serve or report to the public, it doesn’t think the bridge belongs to the public. They’re wrong, and no amount of misleading advertising is going to make them right.