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Hurting the economic link

FORT ERIE, Ont. - A new study of the economic impact of the Peace Bridge has concluded that any further delays in plans to twin the span will hurt the Niagara Region's economic growth. And given the f...

NO PEACE: Congestion grows at the Peace Bridge. (Niagara Falls Review photo)
NO PEACE: Congestion grows at the Peace Bridge. (Niagara Falls Review photo)

FORT ERIE, Ont. – A new study of the economic impact of the Peace Bridge has concluded that any further delays in plans to twin the span will hurt the Niagara Region’s economic growth. And given the fact the bridge is the second busiest border crossing between Canada and the U.S., delays in expansion plans could manifest themselves as ever-increasing headaches for the increasing truck traffic trying to cross the border into Buffalo, N.Y.

The study, entitled The Economic Importance of the Peace Bridge, was commissioned by the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (or the Peace Bridge Authority) and conducted by consultants Robert O’Dell Management and Strategic Projections. According to Tom McCormack of Strategic Projections, the overriding value of the bridge is in the sheer volume of trade it facilities between the U.S. and Canada. But that trade volume cannot continue to grow, he says, if the capacity problem at the bridge is not addressed immediately.

“The study makes it clear that the Peace Bridge is facing a very difficult situation,” McCormack says. In fact, the trade and traffic projections developed in the report indicate that a five-year delay of Peace Bridge twinning and U.S. plaza construction will mean major traffic delays in all economic growth scenarios.

The O’Dell/Strategic Projections consulting team clearly feels that the Peace Bridge is on the verge of a capacity crisis. In its final recommendations, the study states, “the expansion of the Peace Bridge is too important to the economies of the United States and Canada, Ontario and the Great Lakes states, and Buffalo and Fort Erie, to delay even one more construction season.”

In spite of the urgent tone of the study, controversy currently surrounding the Peace Bridge twinning project is likely to delay the start of construction for some time, perhaps years – even though the Peace Bridge Authority wants it twinned. Back in March, the project met opposition from local community groups and politicians who raised objections with Buffalo city council about the environmental assessment process, the granting of land easement rights, and even the physical appearance of the proposed twin bridge. In the face of the protests, Buffalo city council eventually withdrew the shore easement rights it had previously granted for the second span.

The Peace Bridge Authority has since launched a lawsuit against the city.

As if that weren’t enough to delay the project, the Authority was then hit by a stop-work injunction by the New York Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of three lawsuits filed against the environmental assessment process. The Authority has appealed.

Given all the obstacles now facing the project, Peace Bridge Authority U.S. co-manager Earl Rowe is blunt about the prospects of having the second span in place within the time frame recommended in the economic impact study.

“I’m not optimistic,” Rowe says. “Construction would have to get underway by next spring, and I don’t think the political will is there to move ahead. Obviously, if we don’t get moving as soon as possible, we are going to forfeit jobs and income opportunities in Canada and the U.S.”

The authors of the study found that the Peace Bridge handles one-fifth of all cross-border traffic, and facilitates 15 per cent of Canada’s trade with the U.S., and 30 per cent of Ontario’s. Last year, the value of goods that crossed the Peace Bridge amounted to approximately $29 billion (all figures US), or roughly $80 million in trade every day.

In terms of traffic, the bridge currently handles about 1,500 to 1,800 vehicles per hour, or between 18,000 and 20,000 per day. In 1999, 6.5 million cars and 1.5 million trucks crossed the bridge.

“Obviously, the bridge is operating at full capacity right now,” McCormack says. “But it is going to get a lot worse in the next few years.”

The study projects that truck traffic alone on the bridge will reach 1.75 million vehicles annually by 2003, 2 million by 2007, 2.25 million by 2010, and 3 million – which would be the bridge’s twinned capacity – by 2018. n

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