Let's agree on a few points regarding the Peace Bridge and the chronically frustrated efforts to build a new one and expand the customs plaza.
*The bridge is not going away. If no new bridge is built, the old one, designed with the environmental and traffic issues of the 1920s in mind, will remain the only Buffalo bridge across the Niagara River well into the 21st century.
*If the customs plaza is not expanded and modernized, traffic will continue to back up on the Peace Bridge, with the exhaust fumes of hundreds of idling cars and trucks continuing to undermine the health of neighborhood residents.
*The abandoned homes on Busti Avenue that are suddenly and unaccountably the focus of opponents' obstruction efforts will remain abandoned and deteriorating or be torn down, anyway. Who is going to put money into properties that are blocking the needed expansion of the customs plaza?
It had seemed as though the project was finally hitting something like cruising speed, when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced earlier this year that he was putting demolition of the houses on a fast track. But two weeks ago, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown tried to throw the plan into neutral, protesting that demolition of the houses was premature. He sent a letter to Cuomo, asking him to intervene, even though it is the governor who is trying to get the project moving after years of delay. "The community has raised a number of valid concerns, and many unanswered questions remain," he said in the letter. Cuomo, fortunately, seems intent on moving forward.
In meeting with The Buffalo News editorial board, Brown insisted he was talking only about holding off for a few weeks to ensure that neighborhood residents could get their questions answered. No one could complain about a few extra weeks, but given the complaints of preservationists, no one can really believe that that's all this will take.
What is more, the houses are decrepit. They became historically significant only when plans to tear them down surfaced. Just because a building is old doesn't mean it is worth saving.
Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, is a strong proponent of building a new bridge and plaza and he is frustrated by Brown's eleventh-hour effort to jam a stick in the spokes of the project. He frequently – and correctly – cites the Western New York business interests that depend on Canadian traffic and an efficient crossing: the Bills, the Sabres, the shopping malls, the restaurants. If you want them to fail, he says, don't build a new bridge.
He's right. And if you don't want to offer relief to the asthma sufferers and others who are bothered by fumes from the idling traffic, don't build a new plaza.
Yes, some people are going to be inconvenienced by the plaza and bridge projects. It is always that way when big public projects conflict with other priorities. Those concerns can sometimes be ameliorated – and it is crucial to seek those accommodations – but in the end, it is not possible for the concerns of a few to block projects of significant public benefit.
In Detroit, people seem to understand that concept. Even though the Peace Bridge crossing is the Canadian government's priority, Higgins said, it is proceeding with a Detroit-Windsor bridge project because there, "they just have their act together."
That project is going to create more than 10,000 construction jobs and more on related construction projects, according to the Michigan-based Center for Automotive Research. Another 1,400 permanent jobs will also be created, along with 6,800 other jobs from spinoff activity, the center reported.
That could have been us.