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Peace Bridge momentum; With progress on the customs plaza, it's time to think about a new span

Who says upstate and downstate aren't inextricably linked? Just as the state is pushing for a stupendously expensive replacement of the Tappan Zee bridge over the Hudson River, it is moving into high gear on the comparatively modest project of building a new customs plaza at the Peace Bridge, which should pave the way for a new bridge. Sometimes, the stars align, even if they take an awfully long time getting into position.

It's not an uncommon phenomenon in New York State. If downstate gets a goody, upstate has to get one, too. A new bridge across the Hudson River is matched by a new customs plaza and then a bridge across the Niagara River. The projects aren't otherwise comparable, with the Tappan Zee now estimated at $6 billion compared to the Peace Bridge cost -- for the bridge and the plaza -- at around $400 million.

But let's not quibble. However it comes about, it seems as though this project is finally achieving some kind of momentum. Some of this has to do with the Peace Bridge Authority's move to scale back the size of the customs plaza. That wise decision eliminated a lot of the procedural red tape holding up the project. But the new movement also reflects the involvement of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who seems intent on proving that -- under his watch, at least -- New York is still capable of undertaking big projects.

To that end, Cuomo has pledged to use the state's power of eminent domain to acquire the necessary properties by summer, which begins in barely more than a month, with construction of the plaza to follow immediately. With just that part of the project completed, traffic flow will be improved, to the relief not just of motorists, but of merchants, arts groups and sports teams counting on Canadians for a large part of their revenue.

After that, when the economy is in sufficiently healthy shape, the authority can return to the task of building a dramatic new bridge. Its plan is to appeal for government help with funding -- a reasonable request given that the authority will be using its own money to reconfigure and slightly expand the Buffalo customs plaza.

It is long past time for this work to be completed. Landowners near the Peace Bridge have been unfairly penalized for years as the project has dragged on and their properties have become unmarketable and the target of vandals. The Episcopal Church Home & Affiliates has $14.5 million in liens against property that the stalled bridge project forced it to close five years ago. Its creditors, including the City of Buffalo tax department, are not being paid. The list of those harmed by this long-delayed project is lengthy, indeed.

But movement finally seems to be under way. Cuomo and our local delegation need to keep it up until the plaza is built and a beautiful new bridge spans the Niagara River.