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DROP THE MUNDANE DESIGN AND CREATE A BETTER PEACE BRIDGE

Some significant words were uttered by Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan last weekend as he spoke about the proposed new Peace Bridge: "There's plenty of money to do the job right."

Moynihan's comment came in reaction to criticism of the Peace Bridge Authority's current design for a second span.

The senator is talking about federal money, and he was expansive about the possibilities. Officials of the bridge authority should seize on his offer of help and do what they have utterly failed to do so far -- design a bridge worthy of our great international communities and the majestic river that divides them.

The Niagara Frontier and Canada's Niagara Region have a large stake in the aesthetic achievement at the bridge. It will be a prominent presence here for many years -- longer than most of us will live.

Many area residents instinctively recognize the importance of the bridge's design. A daylong workshop held nearly a year ago attracted 459 suggested designs for a new Peace Bridge from everyone from school kids to practicing architects.

But, sadly, the workshop has had little or no bearing on the design work for a second span currently proceeding under the aegis of the authority. Officials who run the bridge are said to be happy with the design as it is.

Other people are justifiably unhappy. The authority has proceeded without adequate time for public reaction to its preferred design, a mundane piece of work made public in June.

Before design work proceeds further, the authority should call a time out. Officials should seek a design that is, at once, visually appealing and sufficiently unique to stand as this area's signature.

They should get broad community input, seek advice of the finest architects, lobby for federal-level funding from both sides of the border and resolve to adhere to a goal of making the very most of this opportunity.

The problem begins with the present bridge. The truss over the Black Rock Canal is a boxy, graceless feature. That makes designing a parallel span particularly difficult.

The design selected by the authority does not solve the puzzle. Its proposed longer, softer arch does not match well with the truss, and the authority has no plans to soften or eliminate the truss in the original span. The pair of bridges would be visually at war.

More important, the design fails to take advantage of an ideal opportunity to create something arrestingly beautiful -- perhaps even something so extraordinary that its features immediately signal this area in the same way that the arch brings fame to St. Louis and the CN Tower and curved City Hall have come to symbolize Toronto.

And what about the approaches to the bridge on the U.S. side? Now, the traveler coming from Canada into Buffalo gets an uninspiring welcome at the same time that a public park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted -- Front Park -- is disrupted by encroachment. There might be a better solution.

Several critics want change in the current plans for the Peace Bridge.

One group wants to see the old bridge come down, replaced by a six- to eight-lane span that would have its American approach near LaSalle Park. The group wants to recruit world-famous bridge architect Santiago Calatrava to do the designing.

Other critics are unhappy with the current plans but less specific about alternatives.

Bridge officials are offering no encouragement, insisting their design will be something the community can be proud of and suggesting it is too late to make meaningful changes anyway.

That's not a satisfactory answer. It's never too late to keep from making a mistake.

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