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Bridge Commission hopes for $130 million Lewiston-Queenston upgrade

LEWISTON – The U.S. end of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge needs a dramatic makeover, the general manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission said last week.

Lew Holloway said the commission has a $130 million plan in hand, but most of the funding has to come from Washington – someday.

“I am optimistic that we will receive funding. I couldn’t even possibly guess at a time frame,” he said.

The commission, which operates the Lewiston-Queenston, Rainbow and Whirlpool Rapids bridges over the Niagara River, has nearly completed a $140 million upgrade of the Queenston end of the northernmost bridge in its portfolio.

That project, which lasted four years, included the expansion of the number of vehicle inspection lanes and a new duty-free store. Holloway said the work will be completed before the end of this year.

Holloway said something similar is needed on the American side, and the Bridge Commission has $50 million to invest in the project.

Holloway said the current $3.25 toll on the bridge will be increased to help pay for the project, but the amount of the phased-in increase has yet to be determined.

But there are limits to what the local management is permitted to do. Holloway said his forces aren’t allowed to do any work on the vehicle inspection lanes, the customs and immigration building, the truck warehouse or the secondary inspections facilities for cars or trucks.

That go-ahead must come from the federal government, and Holloway said he is working with Customs and Border Protection and with the General Services Administration to shake loose some cash.

“There’s severe budgetary constraints on the U.S. side,” he said.

Lewiston-Queenston upgrades are listed as a top priority in a “beyond the border” agreement signed by President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. But that doesn’t mean the money needed will be appropriated soon.

A design for a new plaza is complete, and the environmental review process is continuing. That included a public hearing last week in the Lewiston Village Hall.

The plan, if funded, is to expand the current six car lanes and four truck lanes, built in 1962, to nine lanes for cars, seven that could be used by either cars or trucks, and a dedicated bus inspection lane.

“There’s always some backup at Lewiston. There’s almost always wait times, and some of them can be quite long. The bus-processing facilities are terrible,” Holloway said.

In Canada, the bridge now offers 10 car lanes and five shared by cars and trucks. Previously, the Canadian side had six car lanes and three truck lanes.

With its own money, the commission plans next year to demolish the current duty-free shop on the American side and build a new one, while shifting the approach road to the bridge to the north, where the store now stands.

Electrical and information technology cables beneath the bridge are to be rerouted, Holloway said, and a new maintenance facility may be erected on 22 acres of land the Bridge Commission has purchased at Upper Mountain and Military roads.