More expansion plans for Fort Erie, Buffalo crossing

FORT ERIE, Ont. (Dec. 19, 2003) — The idea of a new trucks-only bridge between Buffalo and Fort Erie, Ont., is gaining momentum again as a group of investors affiliated with the owner of the Ambassador Bridge is acquiring land on both sides of the Niagara River.

The Ambassador Niagara Signature Bridge Group wants to build a span about two miles north of the Peace Bridge in the International Railroad Bridge corridor. It would handle commercial trucks only, leaving auto traffic to the publicly managed Peace Bridge.

In October, the investors acquired seven acres on the U.S. side of the Niagara from Canadian National Railway, bringing its total holdings there to 30 acres. A detailed proposal including bridge design and cost, is expected by the end of January.

The CN land deal comes on the heels of the Peace Bridge Authority’s decision to drop a similar plan as part of its own efforts to expand capacity at the Buffalo-Fort Erie crossing, the country’s second most heavily trafficked overland border point with roughly 4,000 trucks a day. “The corridor being discussed is not a feasible project to undertake,” Bruce Campbell, Peace Bridge Expansion Project manager, tells Today’s Trucking. “The issues and barriers we identified are the same ones that the Ambassador Bridge people would have to overcome. That’s not to say they can’t be successful in doing that, we just don’t think it’s likely.”

The highway connections are impractical, he says. A new road connecting the QEW with a recently built commercial truck plaza would be needed, and most of the I-190/NY198 interchange in Buffalo would have to be reconstructed.

A Peace Bridge Authority report on bridge alternatives also questions whether all the land necessary for the rail corridor bridge could even be acquired. On the American side, some parcels are owned by railroad companies, which are not subject to eminent domain, meaning a separate federal acquisition process would have to take place. Land in Canada would need to be expropriated, and there is an existing Native American land claim on Squaw Island.

Furthermore, the cost of a truck-only bridge in the rail corridor, not including construction on I-190, would be about $715 million US. Work would take 15 years, the report says. Yet the Ambassador group thinks it’s viable.

“The Peace Bridge Authority’s numbers and whole analysis is flawed,” says James Kane, a spokesman for the Detroit-based group. “Their cost estimates are ridiculous. We have our numbers, too, and for us this still makes sense as a privately financed proposal.

“Without getting too negative on them, you have to understand they are a political body,” Kane continues. “They can’t go outside their own jurisdiction, they don’t have the money or the land to go outside their own corridor. So because they can’t build it themselves, they kind of did a windshield analysis.”

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