The board of Americans and Canadians that runs the Peace Bridge said "thanks, but no thanks" Friday to recent suggestions that it seek a more aesthetic design for its planned new span over the Niagara River.
Peace Bridge Authority officials said the renewed calls from two groups of community leaders for a radical redesign of the authority's plan to twin the current bridge might cost millions of dollars more than the current $65 million project and delay it by as much as 10 to 15 years.
John Lopinski, chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority, explained the board's decision to stand by its bridge plans.
"We certainly want to respond to people's opinions and differences with us," he said. "But at the same time, we've gone through a 2 1/2 -year process. Now all of a sudden, some people expect more."
Stephen Mayer, the authority's operations manager, said redesigning the bridge the way some people are asking might cost $200 million to $300 million and delay the project by 10 to 15 years.
"I'm well aware of the fact that the public is concerned about traffic now, and they might have to face that for another 10 years," he said, referring to the traffic tie-ups on the bridge that a second bridge would help eliminate.
Construction of the new span is scheduled to begin in the spring of 1999. Officials plan to complete it in time for the 75th anniversary of the Peace Bridge in August 2002.
The Peace Bridge officials were reacting to a new not-for-profit partnership, called Super-Span Upper Niagara formed by Buffalo manufacturer John S. Cullen, that is seeking to raise money to bring an internationally recognized bridge architect to Buffalo to come up with a new design.
The partnership said the authority's plan to build a new span next to the current one fails to allow the bridge to become a recognized symbol of the Niagara Frontier.
Cullen wants the new span to replace, not complement the existing Peace Bridge. He would demolish the 70-year-old bridge and erect a six- or eight-lane span.
The group picked up some important support from Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., who said last week in Buffalo that "there's all the money in the world" in federal transportation coffers for such a project.
Cullen's group is one of two hoping to develop an alternative to the authority's bridge plan.
The other group wants to enhance the gateway aspect of the American approaches to the bridge. It includes attorney Robert Kresse; Gail Johnstone, president of the Buffalo Foundation; and Thomas M. Daly, president of Tower Group International, custom brokers.
Daly said the authority's stand will not deter the two groups from moving forward.
"It's counterproductive to reject something out of hand even before there is a discussion about it," he said. "It's important for the leaders of the organization involved in the project to work cooperatively with the community for its economic betterment."
Daly said he and his associates are absolutely committed to continuing to press for an economic evaluation of the bridge plan.
He is particularly concerned about the authority's plans to build a truck inspection terminal in Fort Erie, Ont., instead of in Buffalo.
Kresse also questioned the authority's stance.
"I mean no disrespect to the authority chairman," Kresse said, "but I do not believe we're precluded by his remarks from being optimistic about our plans.
"I have advanced no particular plan," he added, "but I do think we should all step back and entertain the broadest examination of the options available to the community.
"The gateway," he noted, "is a potential major asset trade between the U.S. and Canada and an important symbol of the great friendship between our two nations."
But the authority took a hard line against major changes in its game plan, noting that a bridge design contest attracted more than 400 suggestions.
Mayer said the plan finally adopted allows the authority to replace the deck of the old bridge once the new span opens and represents the most fiscally responsible option.
"The comment was made that there is all kinds of money available," Mayer said, "but I'm not so sure that's true."
Mayer said the problem with the late entry of the group, Super-Span Upper Niagara, is that a radical redesign would require much more detailed environmental studies. He said one to two years would be needed to secure funds, a detailed environmental impact statement would require at least five years, with another three to five years of construction.
The advantage of the current plan, he explained, is that such a detailed environmental study would not be necessary.
He emphasized that the major investments made in the current bridge in recent years make it usable well into the 21st century.
"It makes no sense to me to tear down a perfectly good piece of infrastructure," he said.
Still, authority members seemed interested in turning the bridge into an international symbol.
Mayer said he has been approached by a sculptor with ideas for a "signature" work somewhere on the span, adding that the idea should be explored.
"We should look at the possibility of some kind of dramatic sculpture in between the two bridges, or on the U.S. or Canadian sides," he said. "There could be some type of defining landmark."
Lopinski said the authority's executive committee will soon issue an official response to the suggestions about redesigning the new bridge.