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Cuomo’s frustration with bridge authority boils over

When Canada wanted to improve its side of the Peace Bridge, the U.S. representatives on the bridge authority board went along with the plans.

But the Canadian representatives have not been so cooperative, according to a sharply worded letter sent Thursday by a top Cuomo administration aide to Canada’s minister of transport.

Cuomo’s director of state operations, Howard Glaser, writes that the U.S. members of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority have lost confidence in the leadership of the authority and that progress on the U.S. side is “in jeopardy due to a lack of cooperation from the Canadian members of the PBA board.”

Glaser requests a meeting with the Canadian minister of transport, Denis Lebel, and said an impasse exists on the board and that “there is serious doubt about the ability of the Peace Bridge Authority to function.”

The authority board has five members from the United States and five from Canada, which can result in a deadlock, as six votes are needed to approve items.

New York asked the board if it could assume responsibility for the improvements and deliver them, but the Canadian board members and the authority leadership rejected it, according to Glaser.

The board is scheduled to meet today for the first time since December.

Previous monthly meetings have been canceled because of a lack of a quorum or by mutual agreement by board members.

Sam Hoyt, a member of the board and a top Cuomo aide in Buffalo, said that Canadian members of the board have raised issues about agenda items at the last minute, which has delayed progress on projects. He cited last-minute changes to a plan to construct a ramp to the Niagara Thruway that would remove traffic from Front Park.

“The board and administration are micromanaging our every move,” Hoyt said.

A request to comment from Transport Canada was not immediately returned. An authority spokesman declined to comment Thursday evening.

Cuomo has shown keen interest in improving the Peace Bridge plaza, and in August he traveled to Buffalo to announce that an agreement had been made with the city for the acquisition of a portion of Busti Avenue.

“He doesn’t have a lot of patience for things that move slowly,” Hoyt said of the governor. “We want to be treated the same way for our project that the Canadians were treated for their project.”

Glaser’s letter cites New York’s efforts to improve the U.S. side of the crossing, including the Busti negotiations, a $15 million state commitment for improvements, obtaining $15.8 million in federal funds and working to acquire the Episcopal Church Home property.

The Busti Avenue sale has not yet come before the Common Council, which would have to approve it, and the state has not yet acquired the vacant Episcopal Church Home, which is adjacent to the bridge plaza.

The neighbors around the bridge, and even key elected officials, have been left in the dark about a plan for changes at the bridge plaza.

Bridge authority officials have said that until it controls certain parcels of land, such as a portion of Busti Avenue and the Episcopal Church Home property, it cannot present any plan.

In an essay in The Buffalo News in March, Peace Bridge General Manager Ron Rienas said speculation about expanding the Buffalo plaza is premature, citing land that still needs to be acquired and federal budget issues, among other things.

Common Council members have said they would feel uncomfortable voting to sell any city street until a plan is presented.