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PURSUING A VISION
PEACE BRIDGE AUTHORITY SHOULD NOT TRY TO FORCE A MEDIOCRE BRIDGE ON THIS AREA

The Peace Bridge Authority and its consultants ought to listen to Christian Menn. While the concepts for a new Niagara crossing have been narrowed to a final four, the internationally acclaimed Swiss bridge designer said he can build a better bridge, and with little or no loss of time.

This region should settle for nothing less than excellence. This is not the time to think small thoughts. Other communities have found a way to put up a bridge that creates pride. Why can't the Peace Bridge Authority do the same thing?

Menn, in an interview, delivered a welcome reminder of that necessity. As the designer of a replacement span that garnered the most votes in public polling to help pick a "final four" for detailed study, he hoped for a chance to add even more drama to his concept by turning its straight road deck into a sweeping curve. That can happen if a replacement span is picked instead of one of the proposed "companion" spans that would parallel the existing bridge.

It's late in this very long game, but even the management firm running the review for the Peace Bridge Authority said it's not too late to think about a curved bridge -- if it doesn't cost too much. In that qualifier lie the seeds of mediocrity.

Buffalo and Fort Erie should build no bridge that merely crosses a river and does nothing to signify this region's commitment to a rebirth of vitality. A new bridge should not be a sacrifice on the altar of a threadbare economy. For now, with governmental funding possibilities still not fully explored, the balance should tilt more toward greatness than estimated affordability.

Among the choices still on the table in the selection process is a plan to build a similarly sized companion span and leave the Peace Bridge largely unimproved. That would keep the project within the authority's spending capabilities. Menn makes the sobering point that a bridge already 77 years old eventually will be removed because of escalating maintenance costs. Will this region's next generation face another twin-or-replace choice when that happens?

Other possibilities include a replacement span that frees designers from companion-span design constraints, or a compromise that would keep the Peace Bridge -- perhaps with an extended life span as a pedestrian/bike bridge or international cultural park -- while adding a six-lane or eight-lane replacement. That would be expensive now -- but perhaps economical in the long run.

Options still are open, but a final decision is fast approaching. It's been eight years since the authority tried to force a mediocre solution on the people, and the people rejected it. Now is the time to deliver the very best bridge, and get the project done.

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