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WHAT SUPERSPAN WOULD TELL TWIN BRIDGE IF ONLY IT HAD THE CHANCE TO BE HEARD

In business, it has often been said that the three most critical factors are location, location and location.

Buffalo's location was the essential reason for its growth in the 19th century and is the foundation for future growth. Our hopes for renaissance are closely tied with international trade.

That is why it is so important to design and build a new bridge that will do more than just carry traffic across the Niagara River from Buffalo to Fort Erie. We must all be imaginative and determined enough to seize the opportunity -- this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity -- creating a bridge that will serve as a unique graphic symbol of our aspirations as well as stimulating business development.

We need a SuperSpan -- one spectacular and effective new bridge -- and the need has become so obvious during recent discussions that dozens of business leaders and public officials have joined me to support the proposal. They believe that the plan of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority to build a "twin" of the Peace Bridge is flawed, unimaginative and unacceptable.

But as the bridge issue has resounded throughout Western New York, the members of the Authority have hauled out the barricades and retreated to the privacy of their offices, apparently intent upon stifling public debate. They are appointive public officials, and they should be encouraging community dialogue rather than seeking ways in which to camouflage the shortcomings in their plans and divert public attention from the real issue: the dynamic role that a SuperSpan could play in regional growth.

We have attempted to meet with the Authority, but they have rejected our requests. If we had the opportunity to reason with them at the conference table, we would say this:

Historically the Peace Bridge operators have envisioned their role as caretakers, merely moving traffic from shore to shore. We can no longer afford such a limited vision. We must create a major economic gateway.

We all want to generate more traffic and bridge revenue, but the Authority plan is like trying to stuff ten pounds of sugar into a five-pound bag. It can't be done. Today's plaza on the American side is a bottleneck at best and a dangerous obstacle course at worst. With the plan for two bridges and with little additional land readily available for expansion, immense traffic problems will result. Eventually the conditions would deteriorate to the point where commercial carriers will seek more efficient border-crossing locations.

It makes no sense to contemplate expanding the toll plaza by taking additional land from Front Park or acquiring other neighborhood property. Any such proposals would be strongly opposed by those who cherish Buffalo's park design by Frederick Law Olmsted and by homeowners anxious to preserve their neighborhood. We could expect costly, divisive and prolonged opposition.

Then there is the question of funding. By its own admission, the Authority does not have enough money to complete the full project of bridge and plazas now, much less enough money to complete the project over its 13-year time frame. By slamming the door on the opportunities that would yield additional state and federal funding, the Authority is leaving itself in a questionable and precarious plight: It will be forced repeatedly to seek approval from the New York State Legislature and governor for increased bonding power to pay for construction. The certain result: higher tolls.

Our plan has gained widespread support. We say the Authority should retain a renowned bridge designer and construct one new six-lane bridge from the area in the northern part of LaSalle Park and make use of city-owned property. The new bridge would rise from the park, near the city-owned Col. Francis J. Ward Pumping Station. This is a historically and architecturally significant building, currently underutilized, which would be saved and refurbished for a visitor's center or bridge offices. The bridge would span the Niagara for a distance of about two-fifths of a mile, and its Canadian terminus would be the current plaza in Fort Erie.

We estimate this can be done for approximately the same as the cost of building a new "twin" bridge and then refurbishing the old bridge. There have been strong indications that substantial state and federal funds would be earmarked for the SuperSpan.

Relocating the bridge would reestablish Front Park as a desirable river front recreation center and return all of the park to the use originally planned by Olmsted. It would also create a new gateway to Buffalo, comparable to the lovely setting at Mather Arch in Fort Erie.

We have an extraordinary opportunity to build an elegant and dramatic landmark that will become both a catalyst spurring development and an internationally recognized work of art.

We must expand our horizons and seize this unique opportunity. We cannot afford to be satisfied with anything less than greatness.

JOHN S. CULLEN, founder of Multisorb Technologies Inc. of West Seneca, is chairman of the citizens group SuperSpan Upper Niagara LLC.

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