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SUPERSPAN SUPPORTERS TO CONTINUE

"SuperSpan" advocates will continue pushing their alternative bridge idea despite its apparent rejection Friday by the Peace Bridge Authority.

However, they will not use their support among some elected officials to hamstring the agency's plan for building a twin span parallel to the existing Peace Bridge.

"My plans are to lobby for our plan," said John S. Cullen, founder of SuperSpan Upper Niagara. "I have no plans to lobby against their plan. We believe we have a better idea. We'll continue until our money runs out."

Cullen and Clinton Brown, an architect and SuperSpan spokesman, presented their idea for a $100 million, six- to eight-lane bridge that would span the Niagara River between LaSalle Park and Fort Erie, Ont., to Peace Bridge Authority board members for the first time Friday.

The 10 American and Canadian board members were skeptical that the proposal by SuperSpan, a group of Buffalo business people, could be built in the time frame or budget they envision. The board members estimated that the total SuperSpan project, including access roads and a new plaza, would cost closer to $450 million.

SuperSpan supporters want the authority to finance construction of their alternative using toll revenues and federal and/or state aid.

"We do not have the luxury of time to debate or study this subject indefinitely," said John A. Lopinski, a Canadian and chairman of the authority's board. "To start the process all over again with this
idea would consume between nine and 13 years of study, design and construction."

American board member Brian Lipke, president of Gibraltar Steel, added that delaying the $65 million twin bridge, which the authority wants to open by the summer of 2002, would send a bad signal about the business environment in the Buffalo area.

Lipke said erecting a twin bridge in quick fashion to take advantage of the economic development opportunities presented by the booming international truck traffic at the Peace Bridge should be the community's paramount concern.

"After the amount of time it's taken to get here, any delay will send a message . . . that this community doesn't know how to embrace an opportunity," he said.

Cullen and Brown said the importance of the new crossing is the major reason they're arguing for a more ambitious plan than the one being pursued by the authority. They said their plan, which also would create a commercial truck plaza in part of LaSalle Park, would provide substantial job opportunities for residents.

"Our concept is for the most beautiful bridge in the world to cross the river and land in the most underused portions of LaSalle Park and build a plaza to serve bridge users and create an international park and teleport," Brown said.

He added that the loss of city parkland would be compensated by the restoration of historic Front Park. The SuperSpan proposal calls for closing the current American bridge plaza next to Front Park and scrapping the existing bridge.

Peace Bridge officials said their plan also would benefit Front Park, noting that the new access road options include closing Baird and Moore drives, a move that would return about 3.7 acres to the park.

A little more than one-tenth of an acre would be sliced from the park's edge to smooth the curve of the exit ramp off the Niagara Thruway.

Cullen said both Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, D-N.Y., and Alfonse M. D'Amato, R-N.Y., have expressed support for the SuperSpan idea, saying there is federal money available to help with the additional costs. Supporters also are trying to get Gov. Pataki's backing.

Brown acknowledged that the SuperSpan group has not discussed their plans with Canadian officials.

Cullen said he hopes that Peace Bridge officials will share information with his group. He said SuperSpan won't use its government contacts to challenge the authority.

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