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Editorial: $91 million will boost Lewiston-Queenston Bridge

There is about 35 percent less vehicle traffic on the international bridges connecting the United States and Canada than there was in the year 2000. That’s not much comfort, though, if you’re stuck in a long line of cars and trucks trying to cross.

Relief is in sight for motorists entering the U.S. on the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer last week announced a $91 million plan to add six lanes for traffic and a new customs inspection building.

The 32,000-square-foot customs building will be constructed as the first phase of a 4½-year project, most of which will be paid for through borrowing by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

Time is money on the international bridges. Schumer pointed out that Canadian shoppers spend $1.7 billion a year in New York State, pumping dollars into our stores, restaurants, sporting events and other commercial endeavors. Those visitors are a crucial component to the economy of Western New York. The less friction that’s involved, the more Canadians are likely to make the trip.

Two-hour waits at peak times have not been uncommon for passenger cars entering either the U.S. or Canada on Lewiston-Queenston or the Peace and Rainbow bridges. Some of the delays on the Canadian side were attributed to lack of adequate staffing there, often due to summer vacation schedules.

The U.S. can’t control entry conditions in Canada, but having the new lanes on the U.S. side should relieve traffic pressure, assuming they are appropriately staffed. Understaffing of those lanes, once common, has improved in recent years.

The project will increase the number of U.S.-bound lanes on the bridge from 10 to 16. Five of the new ones will be for autos or trucks, while the sixth will be for buses. The work is expected to create about 200 construction jobs as it unfolds.

“Whether it’s a daily commute, a shopping trip, or a Sabres game, over 3 million vehicles cross this bridge every year,” Schumer said.

There are 2.6 million passenger vehicle crossings and 800,000 truck crossings a year on Lewiston-Queenston, the fourth-busiest international bridge on the U.S.-Canadian border.

Car commuters should not overlook the importance of expediting the trip for commercial trucks. Nearly $2 billion in goods and services make the crossing every day.

Cross-border travel and trade are vital to Western New York and Southern Ontario. Improving a major bridge crossing is an investment in our region’s future.

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