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Officials are taking steps to minimize traffic congestion at the international bridges expected when a gambling casino opens on the Canadian side and construction work continues at both ends of the Rainbow Bridge.

Representatives of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission, the U.S. Customs Service and Immigration & Naturalization Service and Niagara Falls police reported Friday on their plans to handle traffic with the scheduled opening in December of the casino in the former Maple Leaf Village mall near the Canadian side of the Rainbow Bridge.

The plans call for:

Maximum use of primary inspection lanes.

Reduced construction activity during busiest traffic periods.

Full coordination of government agencies involved.

The customs and immigration offices plan to redeploy and add personnel, and employ the "judicious use of overtime to accommodate changing traffic patterns caused by construction and casino patrons," it was announced at the Niagara Falls Area Chamber of Commerce office.

A $55 million expansion of customs and immigration offices at both ends of the Rainbow Bridge is under way, with construction concentrated in fall and spring to avoid hindering traffic during the busy summer tourist season. The project began in late 1995 and is expected to be completed in mid-1998.

The Bridge Commission and the enforcement agencies reported "no reduction in service" during the construction so far, after reviewing the experience of the past summer.

Deputy Police Superintendent Ernest Palmer said he and Detective Lt. John Chella visited Windsor, Ont., and Detroit this month to learn from their police about the effects of a gambling casino which opened in Windsor.

"We got a lot of helpful information, but they warned us to be prepared for the unexpected," Palmer said.

Police here are planning to have officers directing traffic at key intersections near the Rainbow Bridge, and to a lesser extent near the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge, and to use barricades and new bridge signs to promote smooth, safe traffic for drivers and pedestrians.

Allen Gandell, Bridge Commission general manager, said the prospect of the opening of the gambling casino in nearby Ontario "galvanized government and the community to come together very quickly in incredibly successful cooperation."

Samuel Ferrara, acting Niagara County planning and development commissioner, coordinated the work of the Border Crossing Subcommittee as part of the Chamber of Commerce Opportunities Task Force to prepare for the casino opening.

"The support of all these agencies has been outstanding," and additional steps to encourage smooth traffic over the bridges are being planned, Ferrara said.

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