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IT'S NOT HELPING US GET TO CANADA, BUT WE'RE HAVING A GREAT GAME OF BRIDGE

After consulting with my own bridge experts, Charles Goren and Omar Sharif, I would like to throw two cents into the Peace Bridge pot.

So far, I count three strong hands at this table -- the Twins (East/West), SuperSpan (South) and Freschi-Lin (North) -- plus a few jump bids to members of the Fort Erie and Buffalo Public Bridge Authority.

Let's deal with East/West first.

In 1994, the Peace Bridge Authority declared a shortage of lanes. NAFTA had recently been passed, and traffic often backed up for miles on one side of the bridge and kilometers on the other.

Discarding popular opinion that staffing empty customs booths might flush the system, these cagey players raised the point that the new Ambassador Bridge in Detroit was stealing our commercial traffic, leaving us vulnerable.

The authority must have concluded that a wider traffic jam would be better than a longer one, because they led off with the idea of duplicate bridges.

Originally built in 1927 for horses and buggies, the Peace Bridge had stayed just as successful at keeping abreast of the times. When they needed more space to accommodate truckers, they demolished Fort Porter in one quick lay-down. More space still? They trumped Front Park.

Now, 50 years later, their plaza was bursting and it looked as if prosperity was in the cards. But with Motown playing rough, the authority's high bidders convinced themselves that cloning their Model-T trestle would win the day. It would save money and keep traffic moving whilst they fixed the deck on the original. A win-win twin.

Needless to say, we assumed they were bluffing, because the Peace Bridge needed way more than a face-lift and a young companion to escort us into the 21st century. So disheartened were they with the idea of twins that the governor, both senators and the Why Guy offered to up the ante for a golden gateway.

So why is the game still stalled?

As I heard it, Detroit played its hand quickly when Ford Motor Co. threatened to relocate if the town fathers didn't come up with a better bridge. If we can't do the same at this end of the lake, perhaps we should just fold our cards and cash out. Let the Bills punt. Have the Philharmonic play Beethoven's Ninth. Last call on Chippewa. ForNever Elmwood.

But let's not. The way the cards are falling, we may need quadruplets. With Casino Niagara thriving and Snyder's Palace coming soon, six lanes might not suffice.

We could use SuperSpan to reach Bay Beach. Twin East could lead to Toronto; Twin West to Happy Jack's. Follow Freschi-Lin to the Falls. We might put an eye in the sky to direct the flow. Naturally, those on foot or pedaling would remain welcome to shuffle off to the Rainbow, Whirlpool or Ambassador bridges.

Where will we find half-a-billion dollars to build it all? That's easy -- replace the toll booths with slot machines. If Albany balks, do it on the Canadian side.

Now let's take a peek at the other bridge players.

First South. SuperSpan would connect Fort Erie to LaSalle Park with a prestressed concrete bridge crossing diagonally south of the Peace Bridge. Businessman John Cullen and architect Clinton Brown planned SuperSpan because they were underwhelmed by the "Twins" and felt that we were fanning on a grand-slam opportunity.

Now North. The Freschi-Lin bridge would curve north of the Peace Bridge, landing on some old industrial buildings, a few houses and a clam bar. Conceived by Bruno Freschi, head of the University at Buffalo School of Architecture, and designed by T.Y. Lin, it addresses the problem of too many Canadians in LaSalle Park.

While I admire both proposals, there is a problem with each.

(1) Will SuperSpan hold up under a 16-wheeler loaded with kryptonite?

(2) Might Professor Freschi have some trick up his sleeve to divert traffic into Amherst once it clears customs?

Once these questions are cleared up, I'd back both hands.

As for the Peace Bridge Authority, I am willing to bet that, faced with enormous opposition from the Front Park-Busti-Ted's Red Hots coalition, they opted to finesse their foes with a scheme so ludicrous and undoable that we would be forced to declare their hand the dummy and let them sit out the ensuing play. Those wild and crazy guys!

Watch for Part Two of this series -- "Let's Play Charettes."

TOM PALLAS is a free-lance writer who often bicycles across the Peace Bridge.
For writer guidelines for columns appearing in this space, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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