Buffalo News, March 27, 1999, C2

There's still time to fix this,
so let's build the right bridge

by Bruce Jackson

It was supposed to be a done deal. The twin span from Buffalo to Fort Erie proposed by the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority was inevitable. The alternative proposal, the graceful signature bridge designed by University at Buffalo Architecture Dean Bruno Freschi and San Francisco engineer T. Y. Lin, was presumably dead.

No matter that Freschi-Lin would have been fully functional years earlier, cost less, be kinder to the environment, consume less public land and help reclaim some of the Olmstead park now consumed by the toll plaza that the Authority's plan would enlarge. No matter that it would have given Buffalo an identity recognized around the world, or that it would have provided the city something really beautiful.

We'll never know why the Bridge Authority remains dedicated to its ugly and expensive twin span design: ego, money, bad taste, or all three. All we know is they had their twin span idea early on and they never seriously considered any other.

One reason they gave for dismissing Freschi-Lin was cost, but then their construction bids came in millions of dollars above what they'd promised. A News editorial justified the huge error on the grounds of "a national abundance of bridge projects that erodes competition among bridge builders." I could find no other American newspaper citing increasing bridge costs resulting from "a national abundance of bridge projects."

The Authority claimed that any inquiry into the grounds for its decision would extend the completion of the new bridge and hurt the public. The News endorsed that logic too. The News argued we shouldn't "reopen the design debate" because that would confound the timetable and increase costs. "What is clear," the News said, "is that the Authority cannot let the unexpected extra costs of bridge construction erode its stated commitment to building a 'gateway' U.S. plaza that will embody the community's hopes for symbolism and greatness."

To whom was it clear that taking the time to get it right would hurt anything but the Authority's self-imposed schedule? I'm an English teacher and I warn students about people who write "it is clear" or "as we all know" or "as is perfectly obvious." If anything is clear, then no one has to tell us about it. What the News editorial said was clear wasn't the least bit clear, and neither was it the least bit true.

Buffalo is a one newspaper town. Were the Courier-Express still alive we would have seen a lively journalistic debate about the merits of the various proposals and the Authority's refusal to consider them seriously. But we have no second daily paper, so there was no debate. "We had an editorial board decision and decided that the bridge is a dead issue," Jerry Goldberg, the News editorial page editor, told me. "The News is not interested in the bridge question any more and we won't be running any more editorial comments on it." The only journalistic challenge to the Authority has come from Artvoice, a weekly alternative paper.

Cities don't get many chances for greatness and Buffalo has shot itself in the foot before: Route 190 isolated most of us from the waterfront and Route 198 bisected one of Olmstead's greatest urban parks. The Convention Center chokes downtown streets, a huge office building squats over lower Main Street, and the trolley system strangles downtown business. Building the new UB campus on a suburban Amherst swamp rather than one of the three available Buffalo sites shifted a huge middle-class wage-earner base out of the city. It's time we got one right, and there's still time to fix this one. It's obvious which side the Buffalo News has been on thus far. But why? And will it now join those of us who really care about Buffalo?

*The two passages in red were cut by the Buffalo News.

copyright 1999 Bruce Jackson

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