(Artvoice  15 July 2000)

Peace Bridge Chronicles

The PBA’s Pried Double MacDonald’s Truss

by Bruce Jackson

For months there have been rumors of behind-the-scenes negotiations between various officials and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA). Supposedly, they were hard at work trying to resolve the stalemate imposed by the Canadian members of the board and endorsed or passively accepted by the American members of the board.

No way: the city, the county, and all the other groups may have been negotiating seriously, but the PBA was just stalling for time. They’re still hoping to wear us down.

A month ago, according to former Peace Bridge employee Jay Malone, the Bridge’s general manager Steve Mayer announced at a staff meeting that if they couldn’t get out of the environmental impact study ordered by Judge Eugene Fahey any other way, they would abandon all plans for a new bridge and would just widen the present bridge. That way, they could avoid any environmental evaluation or supervision by anybody. The most important thing, Malone said Maier said, was to get six lanes of steel bridge out there fast, without interference.

Wednesday's Buffalo News revealed that the PBA has a land-based plan too, a cockamamie new design they hope will neutralize all the objections to their old inadequate designs. It’s really the same old design, same old plan, with one difference: instead of two Parker trusses, the engineers have planted the ends of two suspension arcs between the bridges on the river side and outside the bridges on the Buffalo side. It’s like two MacDonald’s arches starting at the same place but pried open to land farther apart. They used the same drawing they used for their earlier twin span design; the only difference is the computer replaced the trapezoidal Parker truss with the Pried MacDonald’s Truss. The new design lands right in the middle of Front Park, which suggests they are still trying to get out of the new northern plaza as well.

PBA chairman Victor Martucci told the News, “From my perspective it’s truly a signature bridge.” So it is: but from someone with abominable handwriting.

The PBA and the Peace Bridge senior staff  remain desperate to avoid the environmental impact study ordered by Judge Eugene Fahey last spring. Lately, they’ve been trying to negotiate with the Episcopal Church Home and the Olmsted Society, hoping to get them to abandon the lawsuit. The Pried MacDonald Truss is an attempt to pressure the city to back out of the lawsuit.

Legally, it doesn’t matter at this point if the city, the Olmsted Conservancy, and the Episcopal Church Home cut deals with the PBA. The lawsuit belongs to Judge Fahey and his decision stands until he decides to reverse himself or a higher court decides he was in error. Both of those contingencies are unlikely.

The question remains: why is the PBA fighting so hard to avoid New York environmental law? It’s not because of Fort Erie’s immutable love for the old bridge, that dreary song chanted without cease these past few months by Fort Erie mayor Wayne Redekop. Redekop wasn’t singing that song a few years ago. He’s singing it now only because Fort Erie is a company town, totally dependent on Peace Bridge largesse. The Bridge is the major employer, and it generates most of the town’s other income. The PBA built all of Fort Erie’s major public buildings. Fort Erie officials sing whatever song the PBA tells them to sing. If the PBA decided a six-lane concrete bridge was the way to go there would be a new songsheet on the mayor’s music stand in seconds.

This isn’t about aesthetics, it isn’t about tradition, it isn’t about sentiment—and it isn’t about getting traffic moving quickly. It’s about money. Money. It’s about who is going to get rich doing what. Far more people, most of them Canadians, will get rich with a steel bridge than with a concrete bridge. There have been direct links between PBA board members and Canadian steel manufacturers. A steel bridge is like a Polaroid camera: the cost of getting it is nothing compared to the cost of operating it. If the old bridge is kept going and a new steel bridge is put next to it, millions of dollars in profits and payoffs will go to people who will get nothing at all if an efficient and economical six-lane concrete bridge replaces the old bridge.

It’s hard to believe that the members of the Public Bridge Authority and their two general managers really think that Buffalo citizens and officials are so stupid they will look at this cobbled design and think it’s the solution to our problems. They know that this plan addresses none of the issues raised by the Public Consensus Review Panel or by Judge Fahey’s decision. This Pried MacDonald’s Truss is just their most recent way of saying “Up yours” to us all. This is just a new phase in the stonewalling. It’s their way of saying to us all, “We don’t care about you, your city, your children’s health, the local or the regional economy. What we care about is the money that will be made by building an anachronistic steel bridge and by maintaining this decrepit old bridge. And we’re going to stonewall and fight anybody who tries to stand between us and those profits, between our friends and that patronage.”

Mayer’s comments to the bridge staff about widening the present bridge if everything else fails and this absurd design are proof enough that the PBA and the senior bridge staff have no intention of doing anything decent for this area unless the law forces them to do it. They’re hoping that our local government officials are so weary of all this and have so much other work to do they will let them slip on by. Now, more than ever, Tony Masiello, Joel Giambra  and Jim Pitts have to remember what this fight has really been about.

copyright 2000 Bruce Jackson

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