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Brown seeks more time for comments on bridge

Mayor Byron W. Brown has asked the Peace Bridge Authority to extend the deadline for the public comment period for the environmental impact statement on expanding the bridge and reconfiguring the American plaza on Buffalo's West Side.

Barring a new extension, Brown encouraged those living near the bridge to submit their objections before Friday's deadline, which already has been pushed back from Nov. 13.

Brown, who met Monday with about 40 residents in the West Side Community Services building on Vermont Street, said he would prefer to see the project move forward, but only if it actually strengthens the surrounding community and resolves issues involving pollution from increased truck traffic.

"I think one of the best ways to do that is through the draft environmental impact statement process, which gives the residents of the community the ability to have their say," he said.

Views on the plan, which would greatly increase the size of the toll plaza and require the seizure of several homes on Columbus Parkway, were decidedly mixed Monday.

Mel Holden of Columbus Parkway expressed fears that the undertaking "will devastate a very stable neighborhood."

"Columbus Parkway and Busti [Avenue] are still gorgeous streets," Holden said. "If we could reclaim our waterfront in that area, your house, my house and [the house of] everybody in this room . . . our [property] values would go up through the roof, because in any other city, this would be prime real estate."

But Martha and Nathan Bliss of Massachusetts Avenue said streets north and east of Columbus Parkway and Busti Avenue already are devasted and stalling the Peace Bridge project only will leave the two stable streets vulnerable to eventual blight.

"Because where you are right now is OK doesn't mean it's going to always be OK," Martha Bliss said. "By removing the houses where we are, which we're sad to give up but we're willing to give up, you will end up being ultimately safer by having a beautiful neighborhood."

Whether or not they want a new International Peace Bridge and reconfigured plaza, area residents were allowed to vent their feelings about how it might affect their neighborhood.

William Fuentes of Columbus Park West said surrounding streets have become vulnerable to blight because plans by the Peace Bridge Authority have scared away owners who would have occupied property in the neighborhood and replaced them with absentee landlords. Plans for a large truck toll plaza only will exacerbate the problem, he added.

"The gateway that Buffalo needs and wants has nothing to do with truck traffic," Fuentes said.

"We want commercial traffic and tourists coming to Buffalo. . . . The trucks, as we know, are going to go through the plaza and just leave us pollution," he added.

Geno Russi of Columbus Parkway said that while he might lose a lot if the authority seizes his home and a six-unit rental property he owns, he prefers to see the project advance.

"Progress is painful, and it's going to be painful for me, because I'm going to lose my home and a business, but I can't wait anymore. We've got to move forward," Russi said.

Written comments may be submitted to Alan E. Taylor, State Department of Transportation Region 5, 100 Seneca St., Buffalo, NY 14203, or Amy Jackson-Grove, Federal Highway Administration, Leo W. O'Brien Federal Building, Clinton Avenue and North Pearl Street, Albany, NY 12207.


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