Peace Bridge officials said today they are willing to consider proposals for replacing the "Parker truss" on the existing span with a graceful arch matching one on the proposed new twin bridge.
But they also warned such a plan -- which would call for replacing the truss over the Black Rock Lock -- presents a host of hurdles involving costs, historic preservation and more time.
"Given all our other priorities, we will look at it," said Steven F. Mayer, operations manager for the Peace Bridge Authority. "But we're not moving it to the front of the line."
The idea of achieving a more aesthetically pleasing link between the United States and Canada has been discussed informally over the past few months, with new Peace Bridge designer Frederick Gottemoeller suggesting the concept in a letter Monday to The Buffalo News.
In addition, Rep. John J. LaFalce, D-Town of Tonawanda, has also expressed interest in the idea.
But bridge officials say they are unsure the costs of achieving such aesthetics justifies the delays and other problems.
"You might be looking at $20 million just for aesthetics," Mayer said, with other bridge officials indicating the additional cost might affect the authority's leverage in obtaining the necessary bonding to finance the project.
In addition, a new environmental assessment process would be required for such a radical departure from the current plan, Mayer said. Combined with design and construction, bridge completion might be delayed two to four years in a time when officials are rushing to capture the benefits of spiraling international trade.
Another major hurdle involves gaining approval of New York and Canadian agencies regulating historic preservation, since the span is considered historically and architecturally significant with 70 years of history.
Though LaFalce and others have suggested federal funds might supplant the authority's own funds for matching the arch on the new bridge, Mayer emphasized he prefers those dollars be devoted to ancillary projects enhancing the overall status of the Peace Bridge as a major international crossing.
"The real need is to complete the South Towns Connector, Route 219 and other pressing projects that work hand in glove with us," Mayer said. "If funds are available, let them get into these other projects that are going begging."
Mayer's comments came at a briefing today as part of the Authority's continuing defense of its "twin bridge" plan in the face of a competing proposal from a Buffalo group promoting a "signature bridge" that would land in LaSalle Park.
Part of that public relations campaign is now concentrating on the plaza on the New York side, which bridge officials contend will be adequate to serve passenger and commercial vehicles for the next 20 to 25 years -- while returning three acres of land to Front Park.
Mayer and Cliff Elwood, authority capital projects manager, said new traffic improvements will also make the Buffalo plaza safer and more efficient. In addition, they contend that the new commercial vehicle processing center slated for 1999 completion in Fort Erie will significantly reduce truck traffic in the plaza through new preclearance programs.
"We're talking about a seamless border using technology to clear vehicles and passengers more quickly," Mayer said. "We don't want to build a sea of asphalt for a plaza we don't need."