Mayor Anthony M. Masiello's proposed recommendations for the Peace Bridge project would save at least 375 homes and commercial properties from demolition, administration officials said Thursday.
The mayor said his push for construction of a new six-lane companion span next to the Peace Bridge, along with a much smaller U.S. plaza, would also better protect neighborhoods from traffic, fumes and noise.
His report, "Perspective on the Peace Bridge," is one of many alternatives that will likely be considered in a new environmental study, the project manager for the review team said Thursday.
Though Vincent P. Lamb said it is premature to endorse any alternative, he feels Masiello's recommendations will be a good starting point as bridge planners move forward with a $5 million environmental review.
Masiello's proposal includes refurbishing the existing bridge, shrinking the U.S. plaza by almost half and restoring Front Park and Fort Porter.
The mayor's proposed revisions would require buying and relocating the Episcopal Church Home at 24 Rhode Island St. Other acquisitions would include additional properties owned by parties affiliated with the home and Pat Sole Park, a small triangular park located north of the Episcopal Church Home.
But administration officials said the plan would require the acquisition of only about a dozen properties, as opposed to an earlier plan advanced by a public review panel that would have required the acquisition of about 350 residential parcels and nearly three dozen commercial or institutional properties.
"This is an emerging concept. It's not a complete plan," Lamb said of Masiello's recommendations. "But I commend the mayor for his leadership and the proactive approach that he is taking."
The Peace Bridge Authority deferred all comments to Lamb, who is overseeing the binational environmental review. The authority originally had proposed building a twin three-lane structure next to the existing three-lane bridge.
Last spring, a public review panel that evaluated alternative Peace Bridge designs urged that a
new six-lane span be pursued and called for a comprehensive impact study to be prepared, rather than separate ones for the plaza and the new bridge.
Masiello said recent studies have indicated that if traffic volume continues to grow at current rates, a six-lane bridge could reach full capacity by 2015. He noted that his recommendations calling for companion spans would provide up to nine lanes. Under his plan, the existing bridge would be refurbished once the new span is open. The project would include replacing the old Parker Truss on the Peace Bridge.
Common Council President James W. Pitts, chairman of the Binational Bridge Task Force, said the mayor's alternatives will be discussed at an upcoming task force meeting.
He said the plan will likely win applause from groups that have been pushing to restore Front Park. But he said the recommendations could spark other concerns.
"Earlier discussions about using this project to redevelop the entire community around the Peace Bridge don't seem to be addressed in any detail in this report," he said.
Pitts said creating an international zone that would enable the federal government to relocate some functions to the much larger Canadian plaza is a concept that also has fueled concerns in prior discussions.
Gail E. Johnstone, who was a member of the public review team that evaluated bridge designs and ultimately recommended a six-lane bridge, declined to comment on Masiello's recommendations because she had not seen the report. But she said the concept of creating an international zone that would allow both countries to operate on either side of the border could bode well for the entire project.
"If we could get all the international functions on the Canadian side, it would offer some enormous possibilities for both sides," she said.
The mayor's plan calls for building an eight-acre plaza just northeast of the existing 15-acre plaza. Masiello said such a move would help protect the quality of life in neighborhoods by reducing noise, fumes and dust. He added that key road connections would stay out of neighborhoods under his plan. One of the changes proposed to the highway system would be an exit road from the U.S. plaza toward the Niagara Thruway, therefore allowing the linkage of Front Park and Fort Porter by "green" bridges.
"The bridge, the park and the plaza must be dealt with as a whole, and that's what we're trying to do with this report," Masiello said. "We feel our recommendations are bold ones. Some people will like them, others will dislike them. But we think this will begin a healthy dialogue."