Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato is joining Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan in supporting a review of plans to spend more than $65 million to "twin" the 70-year-old Peace Bridge.
He plans to meet with Moynihan, D-N.Y., this week to map a strategy.
D'Amato, R-N.Y., also will discuss with Gov. Pataki the efforts of several Buffalo-area civic leaders to promote an alternative proposal, calling for a six-lane, world-class span to replace the current structure, according to Harvey Valentine, D'Amato's spokesman.
D'Amato aides called Buffalo manufacturer John S. Cullen and Cullen's associates last week to inform them of the senator's support.
Cullen is leading community efforts for a bigger, more venturesome "signature" bridge.
A better design can be built for $100 million -- the combined cost of building the authority's proposed "twin" and rehabilitating the original 1927 bridge, Cullen said.
"We call our group SuperSpan Upper Niagara LLC," Cullen said. "We are not merely proposing the design and construction of a new bridge."
"We are proposing the design of a bridge so unique, so elegant and so memorable that it will emerge as a symbol of the new Buffalo, a symbol so graphic and so vibrant that it will become recognized nationally and internationally," he said.
Cullen said the proposal, called "SuperSpan," promises more than a bridge. It envisions a freight transfer center and a facility for telemarketing that would be served by a major fiber optic cable carried by the new bridge.
"We are also suggesting creation of an enterprise development zone in the area" to use special incentives to attract new businesses, Cullen said.
Cullen also said Mayor Masiello supports SuperSpan's efforts.
The mayor is understood to back the concept of a bolder design, but he has not embraced all the specifics, which include placing the span in the northern part of LaSalle Park, near the Col. Francis J. Ward Pumping Station.
D'Amato's support is considered critical to the effort because of his association with Pataki, a fellow Republican.
The governor's appointees sit on two authorities involved in the project: The Peace Bridge Authority, which owns the bridge, and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which has a vote on the bridge agency's board.
Yielding to SuperSpan's community-based lobbying efforts, the bridge authority will reconsider the group's proposal at its regular monthly meeting Friday morning.
Without seeing the plan, the authority on Sept. 26 rejected the idea of a more modern bridge only a week after Moynihan announced his support of the Cullen group.
Steve Mayer, the authority's general manager, says the SuperSpan proposal will be the first item on the agency's agenda. Cullen's group is appearing at Mayer's invitation.
Moynihan is a senior Democrat on the Senate Public Works Committee, which oversees the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The corps will be deeply involved in reviewing the authority's construction permit applications.
Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, said he is withholding judgment on the SuperSpan proposal until he gets more information.
LaFalce and Andrew J. Rudnick, president of the Greater Buffalo Partnership, voiced concerns in interviews that consideration of a new plan will delay construction of an expanded Peace Bridge needed to speed southbound traffic into the United States.
But architect Clinton Brown, who is associated with Cullen, said no delays would be involved.
The authority hopes to complete its work in the year 2002. But after a contract for the four-lane twin bridge is let next summer, construction will require about 39 months.
When the new span opens, the three-lane bridge will close for extensive repairs. That will take another three years.
"We know that a new bridge can be designed and built in four years," Brown said. "We are consulting with world-renowned engineer Santiago Calatravia, and his time frame for a bridge of this size is two to three years."
Calatravia, who lives in Switzerland, has offices in Toronto.
"The authority actually has no bridge; it really has no design," Brown said.
Mayer responded strongly to that claim.
"We absolutely do have a design -- one that is 30 percent complete," Mayer said, adding that the authority plans to submit some of its hydraulic studies to the local office of the Corps of Engineers in December.
These will be the basis of applications to the corps for permission to build cofferdams and other facilities that might affect the flow of the Niagara River.
The authority "is moving right along with its design work," said Gary McDanell, who works in the Army Corps of Engineers regulatory branch in Buffalo.
But he described the bridge authority's situation as having several alternative designs and one preferred design. Applications for corps permits, McDanell said, might not be made until the bridge authority picks a construction company. That will not be until next summer.
McDanell said the corps could issue permits earlier on a conditional basis.
Rudnick has asked Patricia O. Rehak, the partnership's executive vice president, to study the issues and report back for a likely board of directors vote on the dispute at the end of the month.
"Can this (bridge) authority, having gone as far as they have, modify what they are doing?" LaFalce asked. "Maybe. Should they? Maybe. Let's not totally denigrate what they have done so far. We just don't know how this is going to play out."
LaFalce and Rudnick worked on locating the bridge's preclearance truck yard in Fort Erie, Ont., several years ago after the authority and others deadlocked on efforts to put an inspection facility on Buffalo's West Side.
Cullen, meanwhile, said a more dramatic bridge plan will offer the region greater national recognition and economic benefits.
"Our plan is to construct a new six-lane bridge from the area in the northern part of the LaSalle Park and make use of city-owned property," he said. "The new bridge would rise from the park, near the city-owned Col. Francis J. Ward Pumping Station."
Cullen is founder and chairman of Multisorb Technologies.