Pushing for Peace Bridge Plaza Plan

Higgins and Collins push GSA to put project on "front burner"

February 26, 2018 - 1:39 pm
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Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - "We're hear today to announce big news about a big project that will have big benefits to Buffalo and to Western New York", said Rep. Brian Higgins as he stood before the busy Peace Bridge Plaza on the United States side of the border crossing.  Higgins, working with his counterpart Rep. Chris Collins, is calling on the governments' General Services Administration to put the revamped plaza on the "front burner".

The plaza project will not only change the appearance of the United States side of the Peace Bridge plaza but will greatly improve the security and effectiveness of the law enforcement aspect of the work done at the crossing.

The project would shift much of the necessary equipment to the Canadian plaza, clearing the way for a new American side plaza which would require an additional eight acres of real estate, much of which the Peace Bridge Authority already has deed to.  The information gathered by the technology on the Canadian side of the span will be immediately transmitted to Customs and Border Protection staffing on the U.S. side.

Higgins says the end goal of the $35 to $50 million project is "to create the most modern, state of the art border crossing".  Moving much of the infrastructure that is currently housed on the U.S. side will greatly enhance the efficiency and safety of the Peace Bridge.  "You'll see a much better functioning plaza", says Higgins.

In addition to the security improvements, Higgins says there will be the addition of LED lighting, landscaping and public art as a part of the project.

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CBP and PBA to Institute New Technology

CBP conducted a pilot study of pre-inspection in Fort Erie from February 2014 through January 2015.  Among the findings of this study was that wait times could be reduced by mandating cashless transactions and mandating electronic manifests from shippers.  In late 2016, CBP and PBA jointly instituted their Pre-Arrival Readiness Evaluation (PARE) program, which instituted these two reforms by having trucks bound for the U.S. check in with PBA staff in Fort Erie to make sure their fees and manifests were in order before crossing the bridge.  Building on this success, PBA and CBP are advancing a second phase of the PARE program, which would:

  • Shift X-Rays for U.S.-bound trucks from Buffalo to Fort Erie.
  • Shift equipment to detect radioactive cargo from Buffalo to Fort Erie
  • Install Facial recognition cameras in Fort Erie.

These three reforms will achieve the goals of previously-proposed iterations of Shared Border Management without placing U.S. officers in Fort Erie and therefore not requiring an international treaty or an amendment to the Canadian Constitution.  Pre-clearance had proposed to cut average wait times from 7 minutes to 3½ minutes and virtually eliminate waits over 15 minutes. 

Building a New U.S. Plaza

With this equipment shifted from the U.S. plaza to the Canadian plaza, and with greater certainty about the space and configuration requirements of the U.S. plaza because of the resolution of questions about what form Shared Border Management would take, the PBA and the U.S. Government can finally pursue a new U.S. plaza.  A new Canadian plaza on the Fort Erie side of the Peace Bridge opened in 2007, built at a cost of $C50 million with expenses split between the Government of Canada and the PBA.  Further, the bridge itself is being re-decked currently at a cost of $80 million and the U.S. approaches were recently improved and rebuilt at a cost of $57 million.  Despite these improvements, the U.S. plaza remains an unwelcoming maze of antiquated booths and crisscrossing traffic. 

The Bridge Authority currently has $50 million available for capital improvements and the U.S. federal government is prioritizing border infrastructure, advancing the prospects of a new, iconic American gateway.     

Benefits of a New U.S. Plaza

  • Reduced Wait Times.  According to an independent report prepared for U.S. CBP in 2015 following the completion of the Phase II pilot project at the Peace Bridge, implementation of pre-clearance procedures would cut wait times in half from an average of 7 minutes currently, to just 3 ½ minutes. This proposal achieves the goals of pre-clearance without requiring new treaties or constitutional amendments.
  • Economic Opportunity.  The economies of Western New York and Southern Ontario are deeply interconnected.  Western New York cultural institutions, sports teams, retail outlets and other businesses rely on Canadian consumers to thrive.  The Peace Bridge is the second busiest crossing between the U.S. and Canada with more than 5.3 million car, truck and bus crossings in 2017.  Construction of a new U.S. plaza at the Peace Bridge would support local construction jobs in the short term and improving the flow of traffic across the bridge would support economic and job growth in Western New York for years to come.
  • Environmental Improvements.  A new American plaza at the Peace Bridge would reduce idling times that lead to pollution as well as providing a visually and functionally improved gateway to the United States, through Western New York, featuring new landscaping, lighting and public art. 
  • Enhanced Security.  Officers can spend less time on routine, legitimate commerce and more time on law enforcement.  Upon implementation, the Peace Bridge will be the most secure U.S. border crossing.

Buffalo Common Council member David Rivera, who represents the Niagara District where the Peace Bridge is located, released the following statement following the news conference Monday:

“I was informed earlier today that Congressman Brian Higgins announced plans to expand the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza. Unfortunately I was not invited or made aware of the announcement of a plan that will significantly impact the neighborhood surrounding the U.S. Plaza that I represent as Niagara District Council Member on the Buffalo Common Council. I do not support any expansion of the Peace Bridge’s U.S. Plaza. Any encroachment further into the neighborhood is unnecessary and would be at a further detriment to the health and safety of neighborhood residents. The land owned by the Peace Bridge Authority and the State of New York should continue to serve as a green buffer between the Plaza and the neighborhood. Additionally the green buffer should be expanded where possible to mitigate the current spread of pollutants from vehicle emissions on the Plaza into the neighborhood.


I am in full support of the U.S. – Canadian Pre-Clearance agreement and welcome the expedited process and reduced wait times it will bring. But those benefits cannot come at the expense of the neighborhood that would have to suffer with cars and trucks idling much closer to their homes. We have seen great public investments into Pat Sole Park, bike trails, and the Shoreline Trail in this immediate neighborhood. We will see even more investment this summer with the continuing of the Niagara Street re-design project, including green space improvements. We cannot counter the positive value these improvements have brought into the neighborhood by expanding the Peace Bridge’s U.S. Plaza and the resulting pollution that will come with it. I urge Congressman Higgins and the Peace Bridge Authority to reconsider their pre-clearance plan to limit any expansion to the Ft. Erie Plaza side and commit to no expansion of the U.S. Plaza.”

 

 

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