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REOPENING OF WHIRLPOOL SPAN URGED

City Council members are unanimously backing the reopening of the Whirlpool Bridge to Canada but may be less supportive of spending $70,000 to add a fire escape to the north end of City Hall.

All seven Council members are sponsoring a resolution on today's agenda urging the reopening of the Whirlpool Bridge, which has been closed since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York City and the Washington, D.C., area. The resolution calls the bridge a vital link for residents and visitors on both sides of the border and important to revitalizing the Main Street business district.

The span is considered a convenient commuter crossing for local residents, and the resolution calls on the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission to reopen it as soon as possible.

Mayor Irene J. Elia said last week she had joined Niagara Falls, Ont., Mayor Wayne Thomson in calling for the bridge to be reopened. She said the City Council of Niagara Falls, Ont., is expected to adopt a similar resolution.

"We want the Whirlpool Bridge open. It's critical to both this country and Canada," Elia said.

Thomas E. Garlock, general manager of the bridge commission, said the bridge was closed to allow customs and immigration agencies in both countries to redeploy their personnel to the Rainbow and Lewiston-Queenston bridges, which are relatively close by. He said the situation is being reviewed on a week-to-week basis.

"At this time of year traffic on Whirlpool is fairly low. It just makes good sense at this point in time," Garlock said. "I think it's important that (people) know that the border is open and it's functioning and that people who planned to visit Canada or planned to visit the U.S. shouldn't have concern about the border."

U.S. and Canadian visitors can get hourly updates on current traffic conditions on the Rainbow and Lewiston bridges by calling (800) 715-6722. Motorists heading toward the border can tune to 105.1 FM, a low-voltage radio station that gives bridge conditions, messages from the Niagara Parks Commission, Casino Niagara and, sometimes, from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Garlock said the station should be accessible within 15 miles of the border.

Less certain is the fate of a $70,000 bond issue for a fire escape on the north side of City Hall. Four Council members voted for it two weeks ago, but the measure needs five votes to authorize borrowing.

Elia said improving exit from the building has been an issue for 10 years, and the state Labor Department has given the city until the end of the year to act on it. The south side of the four-story building has an interior staircase, while the north side has an elevator. If lawmakers don't approve the borrowing, they will be held personally liable, the mayor warned.

email: jscelsa@buffnews.com

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