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SIX MAYORS JOIN FORCES ON BRIDGE TRAFFIC

Mayors of six border cities in the U.S. and Canada are seeking help from a lobbyist firm in bringing attention to a major issue in their communities -- how increased traffic at the four international bridges is negatively affecting the local economy and quality of life.

"What we are hoping to accomplish is to make sure we impress upon officials what's going on at the border," Fort Erie, Ont., Mayor Wayne Redekop said this week. "It's easy to make policies and pass legislation on the assumption you know what's going on."

The mayors of Lewiston, Niagara Falls and Buffalo in New York and Niagara-on-the-Lake, Niagara Falls and Fort Erie in Ontario recently formed the Niagara River Bi-National Mayors' Coalition.

The four Niagara River crossings become congested whenever the U.S. raises its security level, making cross-border trade hard for local businesses, Redekop said.

The Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, although not a truck crossing, has suffered more delays recently due to increased security in the U.S. and Customs workers' job actions in Canada. It delays families from seeing each other and deters visitors from crossing the bridge, said Tim Salci, mayor of Niagara Falls, Ont.

The City Council there recently decided to mail letters of concern about the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge reopening in March to NEXUS members only.

The program allows pre-approved travelers to cross the bridge using special photo identification cards.

But that system, which also closes the bridge to foot traffic, isn't working, Salci said.

"The Whirlpool Bridge has always been known as the locals' bridge," said Niagara Falls Mayor Vincenzo V. Anello.

The way national lawmakers look at the border along the Niagara River needs to change, he said at Wednesday's Niagara Falls City Council meeting. "They see it from a global perspective, but it affects us (as) a local issue."

Proposals will be sought from four or five communications firms to assist in the lobbying effort in Washington and Ottawa, said James Thibert, head of the Fort Erie Economic Development Department.

Each community will be asked to contribute $30,000 to the lobbying effort, and donations from stake-holders, such as large transportation companies, will be sought, Salci said.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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