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Proposed truck bridge may boost trade flow

Special to Truck NewsNIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. - Developers of a US$1.2 billion truck bridge over the Niagara River want to call it the Harriet Tubman Bridge, after the leader of the historic Underground Ra...

Special to Truck News

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. – Developers of a US$1.2 billion truck bridge over the Niagara River want to call it the Harriet Tubman Bridge, after the leader of the historic Underground Railway.

But the intended tribute doesn’t sit well with some residents of the predominantly black neighborhood beside the bridge.

The Whirlpool International Truck Bridge company was created three years ago to convert the existing railway bridge in Niagara Falls into a crossing for transport trucks only. Investors believe they can make money by promoting the free flow of goods between Canada and the United States.

It will have connections to Highway 405 on the Ontario side and Interstate 190 in New York.

They recently decided to name the bridge after Tubman, who promoted the movement of American slaves across the border to freedom in the mid-1800s, says Bill Truesdale, the company’s president.

But black neighbors call it a “slap in the face” to use Tubman’s name, says Shirley Hicks, a member of the Bridge Station Block Club, a residents’ group opposed to the truck bridge. “They’re trying to buy black people and that’s not fair in a way,” Hicks said in an interview.

The population of the area around the bridgehead is predominantly black, though there is a mixture of cultures.

Hicks believes the investors are pandering to them, using Tubman’s name to try to get them to drop their opposition.

They’re opposed to the bridge because they don’t want to be exposed to the diesel fumes and noise hundreds of transports will bring, Hicks says.

The bridgehead’s design includes large landscaped areas to create a buffer zone between the residential areas and the highway the trucks will use.

There hasn’t been much opposition to the project on the Canadian side because the bridge and connecting highway will be located along an existing railway corridor.

“It’ll be attractive. It’s not going to be an ugly piece of business,” says. Truesdale, whose architects have recently prepared concept drawings of what the bridgehead would look like on the New York side near the intersection of Main and Ontario streets.

As for using Tubman’s name, Truesdale said it’s a genuine tribute to an important American historical figure, whose influence was also felt in Ontario’s Niagara region.

“To the whole U.S., not just the black community, she’s a very important person,” he says.

Two bridgeheads on each side of the border, at a combined cost of US$230 million, will be the first phase of the project, Truesdale said.

Trucks will enter one of six primary inspection booths. If they’re approved they’ll be sent back onto a highway to be built on the railway corridor and drive toward the I-190. If they go to a secondary inspection, there will be a bay of cylindrical enclosures where customs officers can inspect the truck.

An L-shaped office building for customs officers and brokers will sit on the site’s southeast corner.

Only trucks and drivers pre-approved by customs officials will be allowed to use the crossing.

The most up-to-date technology will be employed to reduce inspection times and keep traffic moving.

“It’s going to be the same almost 100 per cent on the Canadian side,” he says.

The project’s second phase is a US$1-billion business park at the southwest intersection of the existing railway and the I-190.

It will have hotels, restaurants and service centres for the truck drivers. But it will also have room for small industries and commercial headquarters, he says.

Truesdale’s group of investors has worked on the project for close to three years.

They expect to make some strong progress this year, he said. If the project can get an environmental assessment and government approvals in 2003, the bridge could be open in 2006, Truesdale says.

The second phase will need an investment of up to US$1 billion. Truesdale’s group is a private company, but he expects they’ll need some public funding to get the project off the ground. “Money is tough now because venture capitalists have been very timid with the money they would normally come forward with,” Truesdale says.n

– Niagara Falls Review

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