The Peace Bridge Plaza Update
January 10, 2012
UPDATE: Buffalo News January 10, 2012: Peace Bridge Plaza Officially Killed
UPDATE Buffalo News July 1, 2011: Plan for Peace Bridge Abandoned
November 18, 2010 Position Paper (pdf) of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy
October 2010 Update
Last June, Preservation Buffalo Niagara (PBN), Niagara Gateway Columbus Park Association, residents of the Prospect Hill neighborhood, and many others concerned about the proposed Peace Bridge Plaza expansion were befuddled and outraged. These ‘consulting parties’ had spent hundreds of hours identifying major problems with the expansion and conveying their concerns to the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA). Then, after no word for more than a year, the FHWA issued a ‘final’ Memorandum of Agreement with little acknowledgment of these issues.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, very troubled by this process and its potential impact, strongly protested in this detailed letter (.pdf). PBN, a Local Partner of the National Trust, is very appreciative of their exceptional effort.
Most importantly, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation agreed! In an October 18th letter (.pdf), the ACHP ordered FHWA to resume meeting with the consulting parties to assess the "sufficiency of the measures contained in the MOA to mitigate the project's effects on historic preservation." ACHP further stressed that the National Trust "also indicated that the mitigation measures contained in the MOA inadequately address the major threat to the National Register-eligible Prospect Hill Historic District ... and that FHWA has not responded to earlier recommendations that it could avoid or dramatically reduce this impact if the agencies made an effort to develop creative solutions and compromises."
The proposed expansion of the Peace Bridge would eliminate 5 and a half city blocks. The project would demolish over 100 buildings removing hundreds of residents, require the loss of over 300 mature trees, and the re-location of 18 businesses. Many historically significant properties would be lost and the impact to the neighborhood would be devastating and irreversible. The current plaza would increase from 17 acres into a 45 acre paved trucking depot. The adjacent original Olmsted Park, known as “The Front” was 33 acres as designed. Under the proposed plan, the truck processing plaza would be larger than the historic parkland. Once a beautiful park setting that greeted visitors to Buffalo and welcomed them to New York and the United States, the proposed plan would reduce the City of Buffalo’s front door to a truck processing terminal.
Link to graphic of Plaza Expansion -- Homes now exist on Niagara, Seventh/Columbus Park and Busti Streets! Use this proposed Plaza map to come see for yourself what will happen to this neighborhood using significant tax as well as toll dollars resulting in lost homes and a degraded park. And how will Buffalo benefit? Graphic from Empire State Future
Statement on Peace Bridge Plaza 2009
The Peace Bridge Plaza is Buffalo's most contentious controversy involving our city's historic resources, a controversy that is drawing state and national attention.
The Preservation League of New York State has named the Prospect Hill neighborhood to its 2008 Seven to Save list and and in 2008 the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the neighborhood to its national Eleven Most Endangered Historic Places list.
The Position of Preservation Buffalo Niagara
Discussions about a new bridge crossing between Buffalo and Canada have been ongoing for the past twenty years. From initial safety concerns involving re-decking the 1927 Peace Bridge, debate has ranged from the merits of a "twin span" or "signature bridge," to the impact of increased traffic, logistics of shared border management and homeland security needs.
Other issues included the form and location of an expanded supersized truck plaza and ramps, and environmental and health concerns caused by exhaust fumes from idling trucks.
Of concern to preservationists was the impact on Prospect Hill, a mix of middle- and working-class housing, grand homes, and small estates built between 1860 and 1960, many by the city's leading architects, as well as a further diminution of Frederick Law Olmsted's 1870's Front Park, once the most-visited in the Olmsted and Vaux-designed system.
When first proposed, the new bridge was to have been funded by increased tolls and bond sales. Over the years, projected costs escalated dramatically. If bonds could be sold in this economic downturn, their sales would be predicated on a dedicated revenue stream for payback. But as the volume of traffic continues its long decline, accompanied by a similar decline in toll revenue, bond sales are no longer a sure financing scheme.
Only two years ago, the gap in funding between project costs and available cash (existing capital, bonding capacity, other grants) was estimated at about $200 million but now exceeds $500 million. If the federal government gave citizens a choice about where to invest this significant sum of money in our region, it seems reasonable to ask whether the Peace Bridge project would remain favored over other transportation or infrastructure needs.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara advocates for reevaluation of the "bridge-plaza problem" and proposed solutions. We feel a real opportunity exists to expand the healthy and historic Prospect Hill neighborhood threatened by the project, while minimizing the invasive plaza and removing the trucks from the neighborhood.
We believe that the leaders who created Buffalo and the legacy of "good bones" bequeathed by Ellicott and Olmsted, which set the physical stage for the first century of explosive prosperity in Buffalo, would solve this problem with a high-quality plan for the 21st century, instead of further depleting solid assets.
A newly creative and innovative plan would build on these assets and address the following issues:
- The Peace Bridge is now 80 years old. Should the age of a bridge at one location drive all decisions for the location of the trade corridor, especially when the decision will affect the City of Buffalo for the next one hundred years?
- Is there a plan for all modes of transportation between the United States and Canada that takes into account all the assets and limitations along 20-plus miles of our shared border?
- How can we capitalize as a region on our trading relationship?
- Where is the optimal location for an intermodal port connecting to Niagara Falls' airport with the longest runway in North America?
- Where is the most viable location for processing freight and trade?
- If Canadian products seek to reach U.S. southern markets, can we develop a safe, secure, efficient route from Toronto that does not negatively impact our border communities?
- Will trucks continue to be an efficient, cost-effective, and preferred transportation method in the 21st century?
- What are the prospects for local job creation, after construction has ended?
- How will high-speed rail affect traffic volume along the border?
- Do we need to upgrade, improve, or replace our international train bridges?
- How do trucks on theI-190 benefit the City of Buffalo?
- Should cars and trucks share the same roads and bridges?
Only after these issues are identified, analyzed, and evaluated can the best options for trade and travel between the Niagara Frontier and Canada be developed into a realistic plan. Asking the Peace Bridge Authority, with its limited jurisdiction, to comprehensively view the options has only led to incomplete answers.
Preservation Buffalo Niagara advocates for the smallest possible footprint for the Peace Bridge Plaza and for returning as much parkland to Front Park as possible.
Shared border management
As the first step for removing the trucks with their highly toxic health and environmental impacts from the densely populated West Side, we support shared border management and will continue to pursue a long-range regional transportation plan that defines a dedicated commercial corridor and builds it outside residential communities.
We are cautiously optimistic that shared border management may again be an option. Recent reports in the Buffalo News include comments from Rep. Louise Slaughter and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, about reactivating conversations with Canada. Sen. Charles Schumer recently voiced his support for shared border management in northern New York, with the Canadian plaza located on U.S. land. So why not a U.S. plaza on Canadian land for the Peace Bridge?
The creation of a regional authority would be the best way to support the costs of operating multiple river crossings.
This agency could decide revenue sharing, planned maintenance, construction, and other infrastructure issues, as well as managing congestion, pricing, and staffing. For the future prosperity of our region, it is time to stop competing between bridge authorities in Erie and Niagara counties and to combine efforts with our northern neighbors to compete in the global economy.
Finally, citizens have a right to know if the money is in place for this project. If not, the community deserves to know that funding the entire project is not possible so that alternative plans can be made to alleviate some of the problems with the current bridge traffic pattern. If the project becomes a staged plan, then planning authorities owe the community an explanation about how each phase will proceed and how the community will be involved in the process.
If it is found that there is insufficient funding or an insufficient need to build a new bridge, then the need for a supersized plaza and new ramps is also eliminated. Residents of the historic neighborhood will be able to confidently invest in their property without the threat that it will be taken away through eminent domain.
On March 29, the New York Times printed a story about the future of four American cities, Buffalo being one of them. Buffalo was challenged to push itself into a very different future, one that is not a re-creation of the past but that sets a course as a model city of the 21st century.
It is time to accept and act on this responsibility and opportunity.