Plans for a $40 million plaza expansion and improvement project at the Peace Bridge have stirred more debate. Sam Hoyt, chairman of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, sat down with The Buffalo News' Brian Meyer to discuss the project.
The full 6-minute interview can be viewed at BuffaloNews.com/video. Here is a summary of some of the points from the conversation, which is part of the weekly "In Focus" series:
>Meyer: Many Western New Yorkers sitting in the interviewer's seat would start with this question: What has taken so long? Your CliffsNotes version of why all these delays have actually made the expansion project almost a regional punch line?
Hoyt: I agree. It was a 12-year process where an environmental-impact study was conducted, the courts intervened, there were lawsuits, there was community opposition, there was political opposition.
Ultimately, the resources didn't exist to build a new bridge. … It was finally decided that we weren't going to pursue … the environmental-impact study any longer. We're going to stop that process and go forward with major enhancements and renovations of the existing plaza. … We believe that 80 percent of what was going to be accomplished with a new bridge can be accomplished with these plaza improvements at 20 percent of the cost. … The whole point of what we're trying to do today is to eliminate congestion, which has two benefits: (1) Clearly an economic benefit … and (2) improving air quality. … We all know that an idling truck causes more environmental damage than a moving truck.
>Meyer: Critics are saying that basically neighbors have been poisoned by these emissions and that an expansion by itself is not going to solve the problem – and could exacerbate the problem.
Hoyt: Eliminating congestion is absolutely going to solve the problem, No.?1.
No.?2, people have to understand that it isn't just the Peace Bridge and the plaza that are right there in that neighborhood. The I-190, the Niagara section of the Thruway, which has, I think, five times the amount of daily vehicles passing, is 50 yards from the Peace Bridge. … We're doing everything we can to improve the environment at the Peace Bridge. … [The state] has just implemented very sophisticated air-quality monitoring stations. We just implemented a zero tolerance for idling.
>Meyer: The zero idling policy is a policy. It's not a law with teeth. … You're not going to [tell truckers] that they're going to be fined.
Hoyt: We don't have the ability [to impose fines]. … Our elected officials, probably at the state level, if they choose to do that, they can. But let me also say [that] if you're about to cross the bridge, and a bridge employee says, "You're in violation of our policy which says no idling," do you think you're going to say, "I don't care about your policy, but I'm going to cross that bridge and see what happens?"
>Meyer: If a bridge employee says that?
Hoyt: We're going to have enforcement. We can't issue a citation. But we can certainly bang on the door.