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The Peace Bridge Authority on Friday unanimously passed a 1999 budget with a projected 7 percent increase in gross revenue, fueled largely by significantly higher rent from the soon-to-open duty-free shop on the Canadian side of the border.

While gross revenues are expected to increase by 7 percent, operating expenses are projected to rise by only 1.85 percent. No toll increases will be implemented next year.

"The next toll increase is in the year 2000," acting secretary-treasurer Stan Matthews told the authority.

The new budget calls for revenues of $21.8 million (U.S.), compared to operating expenses of $9.9 million. The net revenue, the difference between those figures, goes to debt-service payments and the capital-improvement fund.

The new duty-free store on the Canadian side will open at 11 p.m. Oct. 31, with a gala opening set for Nov. 19 and the ribbon-cutting scheduled for Nov. 20. The new 27,000-square-foot structure will be more than four times as large as the current duty-free shop on the Canadian side.

Board members also learned Friday that truck traffic on the Peace Bridge so far this year has increased by 5.8 percent, while car and bus traffic have declined by significantly smaller amounts.

In the coming year, Authority officials expect car traffic to increase slightly, while truck traffic is expected to taper off.

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