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U.S. side of Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to get $50 million upgrade

The American side of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is finally going to get an upgrade.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., is planning to come to the bridge Tuesday to announce that two federal agencies – Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration – have given final approval to a $50 million modernization plan that will transform the U.S. plaza and create more than 1,200 local jobs.

The number of inspection lanes for incoming auto traffic will be increased from six to nine. The four lanes for trucks will be expanded to six.

There also will be a new separate lane for processing buses, along with new booths, a new canopy and an access tunnel.

The project also calls for removing the current administration and secondary processing building, a single-story, 5,257-square-foot structure, and replacing it with a vastly larger facility – two stories high, with more than 16,000 square feet on each floor.

An outdoor secondary canopy and parking on the plaza also will be expanded.

On a visit to Lewiston last April, Schumer promised to push hard to improve the plaza and reduce chronic congestion at the bridge, where 1-hour waits are common and 3-hour delays are not unknown.

“The U.S. plaza has needed a major upgrade for years,” Schumer said Monday in a statement. “CBP and GSA have heeded our call and finally approved this $50 million expansion.

“Improving and expanding the plaza will do three important things: It will improve safety, alleviate crushing wait times and create jobs.”

Schumer added, “This project will mean 1,200 new construction and related jobs, and the increased commerce from Canada will protect and sustain countless other jobs all over Western New York. This project will be a massive shot in the arm for the Western New York economy.”

No details on when the construction might begin or how long it is expected to take were immediately available.

Scheduled to join Schumer for the announcement were Kathleen L. Neville, chairwoman of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission; Lew Holloway, the commission’s general manager; John H. Percy Jr., president and CEO of Niagara Tourism & Convention Corp.; Lewiston Town Supervisor Steve Broderick and representatives from local labor.

Neville predicted that the project will have “immense economic benefits.”

“Sen. Schumer’s tenacious efforts in reaching agreement with various federal agencies of jurisdiction and securing a financial commitment from U.S. Customs and Border Protection is nothing short of incredible,” she said.

Francis A. Soda, of Niagara Falls, a U.S. member of the Bridge Commission, said Monday that Schumer has been pursuing the project in Washington since he first announced his support in April.

Soda said the senator has been regularly reporting on progress, including meetings with Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske and Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson, all aiming to upgrade the plaza, which was built in 1962.

That included a “commitment” from the federal government to continue as a tenant on the bridge and approval of the commission’s upgrade plans, he said.

“There was a reluctance to commit until Sen. Schumer got involved,” Soda said. “We needed that commitment from CBP so we have something in place allowing us to go to the bond market for phase 2 of the project.”

email: danderson@buffnews.com and rmccarthy@buffnews.com