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Making a move back to Menn Designer may get chance to rework idea

The leader of a Peace Bridge design jury that recommended Christian Menn's soaring cable-stayed concept -- recently rejected as being too tall -- is not keen on picking one of the three remaining options as a consolation winner.

"I'm not anxious to bring the jury back to ratify a design that we already rejected," said Robert G. Shibley, a University at Buffalo professor of architecture and planning who served as co-chairman of the binational design jury.

Instead, Shibley suggested giving the world-renowned Swiss bridge designer a chance to rework his design, or offer something new, under a new height limit the federal government placed on the project.

"Is it possible to get something like that bridge with lower height? We'd like to see somebody like Christian Menn take that on," he said.

Mayor Byron W. Brown said he agrees with Shibley.

"I would support bringing Christian Menn back to come up with something bold and something striking, and then give the public the opportunity to see that, express their support for it, and then move forward," Brown said.

The Federal Highway Administration has suggested the final bridge design should be made after it issues a final record of decision approving bridge expansion plans.

Given the project's controversial past, however, Buffalo's leaders for years have wanted to know what the bridge would look like before they sign off on the project.

"While I have said all along that I'm committed to moving the Peace Bridge project forward, I've also said I'm committed to public input," Brown said. "I would be very uncomfortable signing the environmental impact statement without the public being able to see a final design."

Peace Bridge officials haven't made any design decisions -- on timing or on how a choice will be made -- since hearing from the federal agency two weeks ago.

Authority officials first want to meet with Brown and Douglas Martin, mayor of Fort Erie, Ont.

"We have to work together with them," Peace Bridge General Manager Ron Rienas said of the two mayors. "We want to sit down with them and get a sense of what their thoughts are on how to best move forward."

The 32-member design jury recommended the Menn concept from about three dozen companion and replacement ideas it started out with in 2005. Now, only three concepts from that list remain viable.

"I agree that going back to Christian Menn makes the most sense," added juror Jeff Belt, who favors keeping a two-tower span, if possible. "Going down the list of old choices and selecting one based on different criteria is not going to work."

Could a new design be pursued, while the three remaining options are evaluated?

"That's certainly an option," Rienas said.

But don't count on a two-tower, cable-stayed bridge, he said.

"We already explored that, when height became an issue," Rienas said. "Structurally, it's not feasible. The cables would be too horizontal. They wouldn't be able to support the deck of the bridge. Two towers simply do not work."

Brown said he would support reconvening the design jury, whose U.S. members were appointed by former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. Brown said he would appoint additional members if replacements are needed.

"I will definitely talk to the Peace Bridge Authority on how public input can continue to be a major part of this process," Brown said. "There's got to be a way for the public to weigh in and make their comments on what they feel most comfortable with."

Two weeks ago, the Federal Highway Administration cleared the way for a three-tower, cable-stayed bridge under 400 feet tall. The federal agency rejected the 567-foot-tall bridge that the design jury said should be built, citing the threat such a tall bridge would pose to migratory birds flying along the Niagara River and to common terns that nest on an outer breakwater in the Buffalo Harbor.

The agency said its ruling left the bridge authority with these options studied by the design jury:

*A 226-foot-high, triple-arched span;

*A cable-stayed span with three towers about 350 feet high;

*A cable-stayed span with a 295-foot tower on the Canadian side of the bridge, a 322-foot tower in the middle and a 350-foot tower on the U.S. side.

Getting the cable-stayed designs back on the table was a victory for the region, not just for aesthetic reasons, but because it didn't require a time-consuming study, elected officials said.

"We were given a mission to avoid a lengthy and unnecessary study to determine whether the common tern might collide with the Peace Bridge," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y. "Now that the [Federal Highway Administration] has given us a road map for moving forward with the community's vision, we will do all we can to help the Peace Bridge Authority build a beautiful signature, cable-stay bridge as soon as possible."

It's too early to say which bridge will be built, or how that decision will be made, said Kenneth A. Schoetz, the authority's chairman.

"It's good we're back to having the option of doing a cable-stayed bridge," Schoetz said. "As we move forward in the weeks and months ahead, we're able to have control over our destiny and to build a great bridge."

Thomas J. Madison Jr., the highway administration's top administrator, suggested reconvening the bridge design jury for its views on the remaining bridge designs.

Schumer has said he doesn't have a favorite among the two cable-stayed designs now on the table.

e-mail: plakamp@buffnews.com

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