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We should drop 'signature' project to rebuild city

It's time to go back to square one, or should I say, "square two." I'm referring to the 1992 proposal to twin the Peace Bridge at an approximate cost of $90 million.

The contractors had been selected, and had they been allowed to proceed, we would have been riding over the twinned Peace Bridge in about 2003.

Now it appears that we are no further along toward a solution than we were almost 10 years ago.

The "signature bridge" was an idea that was lost in the reality of our times, and it wasn't the birds that scuttled it. Its cost of $350 million is beyond our capacity, especially in view of our economic situation and the many problems that we face in Western New York.

As many of us have sat in our cars for up to several hours as we waited to cross the Peace Bridge, our thoughts were not on the beauty of the bridge, but if we would get across it at all, regardless of what it looked like.

With truck and car traffic on the crossing reduced, it's time to look for other alternatives.

Ten years ago, a well-meaning community group of young professionals -- the New Millennium Group of Western New York -- suggested to the community that what we needed was a signature bridge to replace the Peace Bridge, and efforts were undertaken to convince the community that this could be achieved.

To maximize community participation, there were a number of community meetings to select the signature bridge from a number of suggestions.

This was done even though plans had been drawn, and contracts let, to build a $90 million twin span that would have incorporated the Peace Bridge, but modified it so that it was a contemporary version in the final design.

This area has a history of twinning its bridges. The north and south Grand Island Bridges were built as single spans, but later twinned to meet the demands of increased traffic.

Even twinning the Peace Bridge at this time using the proposed plans might cost $150 million or even less, or $200 million to $250 million less than the cost of a signature bridge.

With the $200 million to $250 million that we could save by not building the signature bridge, we could build 2,000 units of low-income housing on the East and West Sides of Buffalo, we could begin the extension of the light rail rapid transit to the University at Buffalo and the airport, and we could repair the scar that the Kensington Expressway left as it sliced its way through what was a vibrant inner-city neighborhood.

Yes, it time to say goodbye to the signature bridge. In doing so, we might begin to save our neglected neighborhoods and our city, before it's too late.

Robert T. Coles is president of Robert Traynham Architect in Buffalo and senior fellow of the Buffalo-Western New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

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