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$80 million Peace Bridge project to start in July

FORT ERIE, Ont. – Major reconstruction at the Peace Bridge begins this summer, so if traffic jams inconvenienced your crossing into Canada last year, chances are your wait won’t be any shorter this summer – or the next two.

But when an $80 million portion of the project is completed three years from now, bridge officials say you will enjoy the experience, in large part because it will be quicker.

But also because:

• Crews will replace the international span’s deck (roadway plus underlying steel) for the first time since its 1927 construction as part of an overall $167 million capital plan.

• Pedestrian walkways up to eight feet wide will allow cyclists to ride across the bridge instead of walking their bikes as now required.

• New curbs, railings and historic lighting will enhance what many already view as an architecturally significant structure.

• Overhead electronic signs will better direct traffic flow.

• A new observation platform will provide spectacular views of the Niagara River below.

“You will have a view of the water rushing around the piers underneath that will be really a unique experience,” Facilities Manager Anthony D. Braunscheidel said during Friday’s Peace Bridge Authority meeting.

All of the improvements, he promised, will restore “the original charm of the bridge.”

“We are very proud of the plan for what will be our ‘magnificent mile,’ ” added Peace Bridge Authority Chairman Anthony M. Annunziata.

In the meantime, bridge officials seek to ease this summer’s congestion by first widening the Canada-bound approach. Beginning in July, a fourth lane will be added to expedite the movement of trucks off the bridge into Canada. It aims to provide more room for traffic next year when deck replacement reduces bridge lanes from three to two.

Peace Bridge reconstruction plans have always included widening the Canadian approach, but it was initially slated to be done further along on the three-year schedule. Braunscheidel of the Peace Bridge Authority said providing extra room at an earlier point in the project only makes sense.

“There are going to be traffic impacts,” he said. “But if we can lessen it by adding capacity, that’s what we want to do.”

Another major advantage is moving Canada-bound trucks into inspection much faster.

“Widening simply adds one lane to the north side,” said Tim Coyle, a Parsons Transportation engineer working on the project for the authority. “It’s all about getting those vehicles off the bridge and into their respective booths.”

Braunscheidel said the rebuilt bridge surface will feature “36 feet of new concrete curb to curb” across the 3,600-foot-long complex, framed by the new walkways.

“We want to make it as pedestrian- and bike-friendly as possible and the enhancements we are talking about will do exactly that,” added Vice Chairman Sam Hoyt.

Peace Bridge officials acknowledge significant challenges – including truck traffic safety – posed by such a major project on a structure reduced to only two lanes during next year’s construction. As a result, Coyle explained crews will initially replace only about 75 percent of one lane to allow for a “wider sweep” of trucks, especially beneath the bridge truss and on the curve approaching the Buffalo side. Then they will “overbuild” on the bridge’s north side to provide more room for traffic during the next construction phase.

“We will build it wide enough so trucks will not be an issue,” Coyle said. “In fact, it will be better.”

Authority officials said they feel optimistic about the revised construction schedule because of the additional traffic capacity for such a major project.

They also said widening the approach on the Buffalo side – completed just last year – provides even more room to move traffic off the bridge.

“What we do today amounts to a 50- to 75-year choice,” Coyle said. “And whatever we do today, we get a great project at the end.”