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Higgins aims to kick-start bridge construction Congressman tells executives it's time to move ahead on new Peace Bridge

It's time to scrap the wait-and-see attitude on a new Peace Bridge -- and just build it, Rep. Brian Higgins told area business executives Friday.

The project should move ahead, even if people are disappointed by the prospect of a big U.S. inspections plaza on the city's West Side, Higgins said.

"I believe it's time to move forward aggressively on a new Peace Bridge and American plaza," Higgins, D-Buffalo, told reporters after briefing Buffalo Niagara Partnership members.

Higgins asked about 100 people at the gathering to get involved in supporting the project.

His request comes 10 weeks after the Homeland Security Department ruled against allowing U.S. customs and immigration screening on the Canadian side of the bridge. That ruling means the Peace Bridge Authority will seek approval to expand its current plaza, although the plan would restore three acres of parkland to Front Park and create five acres of new green space to act as a buffer between the plaza and surrounding neighborhood.

"I think we should try to make this work," he said of the traditional plaza alternative.

"Our aim is to move forward as expeditiously as we can," said Paul J. Koessler of Buffalo, the bridge authority's vice chairman. "We're in a full-go mode."

Building a two-tower cable-stayed companion bridge and a full-blown plaza in Buffalo is estimated to cost $315 million. A financial feasibility study done in 2005 concluded that the authority can afford to borrow up to $230 million.

Higgins proposed that the federal government could help the authority by negotiating a new 30-year lease for inspections facilities on a new U.S. plaza rather than the usual 10-year lease. That would enhance the authority's bonding capacity because lenders could count on more years of revenue for the authority.

Buffalo Common Council Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio, whose district includes the bridge plaza, said he opposes using the existing plaza. He wants a new plaza nudged north, even if not as far north as in some earlier alternatives.

He wants more buffers between the plaza and neighborhood.

"It's not about how many properties you take. It's about the properties left behind," Bonifacio said.

Further delays to the expansion project at the 80-year-old, three-lane bridge -- among the nation's busiest crossings -- are not acceptable, Higgins said.

Higgins told business leaders too many people and local institutions need smooth crossings at the Peace Bridge. Forty percent of D'Youville College students are Canadians. So are some 15,000 fans at a Buffalo Bills home game. Canadians account for about one-third of those flying at Buffalo Niagara International Airport.

And the uncertain waits at the bridge keep some people from crossing at all, he said.

"Some may argue that without shared border management, there should be no project," Higgins said in a letter to business leaders. "Others may argue that we should wait for the next presidential administration in the hopes that a new administration will allow the project to proceed with shared border management in place -- adding another multi-year delay to this long-stalled project. Neither of these positions are responsible or acceptable."


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