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CANADA TO FUND BRIDGE PROJECTS

The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge will get a new lane for truck traffic, and the Peace Bridge will have an expanded U.S. Customs inspection area as part of $235 million in border improvements announced Wednesday by Canadian government officials.

Tollbooths on the Peace Bridge, the third-busiest crossing along the U.S.-Canada border, will be moved to the Canadian side, providing more space for U.S. Customs to inspect truck traffic. Work on that project will begin next spring, authorities said.

"A fifth lane on the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge will make this one of the most efficient border crossings between the U.S. and Canada," said Thomas E. Garlock, general manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

Engineers will start design work today on the additional lane, with construction scheduled to begin in June 2004, Garlock said. The added lane is expected to open15 to 18 months later.

Both bridges are bottlenecks for backed-up traffic, mostly from trucks.

Security improvements at the Peace Bridge will include more video surveillance cameras.

"We want to make sure that our border crossings are not only more efficient, but more secure," said Allan Rock, the Canadian industry minister, responsible for infrastructure. "Security is an international priority and that's why we have to get it right."

The 40-year-old Lewiston-Queenston Bridge handles the fourth-largest volume of commercial traffic along the 3,000-mile border. The Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ont., is the busiest. "Widening the bridge is a critical step toward speeding up commerce and tourism between the two countries," agreed Barry S. Swartz of North Tonawanda, chairman of the bridge commission. "This is something that will benefit the Niagara region for the next 20 years."

Canadian and American officials announced the projects at a joint news conference near the bridge.

The Canadian border improvements consist of 14 projects that include adding a fifth lane to Ontario's Highway 405 that feeds into the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, widening sections of the Queen Elizabeth Way that lead into Niagara Falls, and widening highways and beefing up security at the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia, Ont., and Port Huron, Mich.

Garlock said the bridge commission is contributing $15 million toward the widening.

The package is a joint project of the Canadian and Ontario governments and the three bridge commissions responsible for the Lewiston-Queenston, Peace and Blue Water bridges.

Garlock, asked why the Canadians would take on the expenditure without any U.S. funding, said, "The U.S. is Canada's largest trading partner and it makes sense to the governments of Ontario and Canada that the border functions as efficiently and safely as possible."

e-mail: bmichelmore@buffnews.com

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