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Needed: Leadership; A change in attitude is required before we can face up to our challenges

It's time for leadership. From the Buffalo Common Council. From Albany. From the board of the Public Bridge Authority. Events are shaping up to allow the construction of an iconic new, towering Peace Bridge, but even then, a truly grand project (which is what Buffalo deserves -- just ask the visitors attending the National Preservation Conference) won't simply materialize.

Leadership is the difference between what is mediocre and what is great. Leaders do the right thing; leaders get things done. There has been precious little leadership on this subject and on countless others over the years in Western New York. We have grown accustomed in this city to the path of least resistance. Other cities pursue spectacular projects, including bridges, and seem to succeed without breaking a sweat. Here not so much.

The difference is leadership. That's not about meandering down the path of least resistance, like water trickling down a hill. It's about adopting a vision and navigating your way past the obstacles until you achieve it. We haven't had a lot of practice at that around here in the past 50 years or so.

Maybe that's not surprising in some ways. We've been programmed over the past several decades to watch helplessly as the closing of steel mills and the loss of population undermined our standard of living. That there was little that could be done, because we were being battered by forces not in our control.

But not everything is out of our control. Some things we can influence with the proper leadership. We've seen it happen. Almost single-handedly, Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, wrested millions of dollars from the New York Power Authority to underwrite the long-delayed redevelopment of Buffalo's waterfront. Work has begun and within a couple of years, a project that seemed to be beyond the region's reach will be changing the tone of life along the lakeshore.

Leadership has produced a way for U.S. Customs truck inspections to be moved to the Ontario side of the Peace Bridge. Leadership is restoring Frank Lloyd Wright's Darwin Martin House, the Richardson Olmsted Complex and other historic structures in Buffalo. Yet those are the exceptions, not the rule. Too often, our private- and public-sector leaders (so-called) never suit up for the match.

That needs to end now. The relocation of truck inspections to the Canadian side of our border will allow for a smaller inspection plaza to be built in Buffalo at less expense and without federal interference. That, in turn, will finally allow a bridge to be built and, make no mistake, a new bridge is critical to Buffalo's future.

Our economic growth depends to a large extent on accessing the Southern Ontario market. We cannot do that if crossing the Niagara River is a headache not worth enduring. That will cost us in many ways, particularly in sales tax revenue, but also as trucking companies decide whether to cross the border here or in Detroit.

We will lose that economic boost if leaders do not rise to the challenge. We need a new bridge and it needs to be a stunning one -- a 21st century counterpart to the spectacular trove of 19th and 20th century architecture that is our forebears' bequest to us. Let's give something to our descendants that lives up to that glittering standard.

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