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By Anthony M. Masiello

Progress. It’s a word that has become associated with so many good things happening now in Buffalo and Western New York. Our waterfront has never looked better; the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus continues to grow, creating more jobs and development opportunities in the heart of Buffalo; and the rebirth of such downtown landmarks as the Hotel @ the Lafayette are changing the look and feel of our city.

Building on this progress, we have an opportunity at the Peace Bridge to further support the region’s new energy and optimism. We can do it.

By going forward with a U.S. plaza improvement like the project that in 2011 was developed by Peace Bridge Authority staff and approved by its board, we can continue the momentum that has taken root. In fact, the state has improved the authority’s U.S. plaza plan, put up $15 million of the project cost and identified a doable and accelerated construction process that will complete the entire project in half the time proposed by the authority. And, managed by the state, we’re confident this project will deliver a quality, modern gateway.

This project achieves critical goals, all of which will benefit our region: It will create approximately 500 construction-related jobs. It will improve quality of life in the nearby neighborhood by moving trucks quickly off of the bridge, while also restoring the historic Olmsted-designed Front Park by removing Baird Drive from the park – not an original part of the authority’s plan, but added by the state after consultation with city planners and the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy. And it will improve the flow of traffic into our community, which will contribute to our economy.

We all know how important Canadian consumers are to our local economy. They want to shop, recreate and visit in and around our region, making a significant economic contribution. An improved plaza, constructed more quickly than planned, will make travel into New York State all the easier – and sooner.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has made the continuing improvement of the Buffalo and Western New York economy a top priority. That’s why he accepted this alternative, expedited project – because it will utilize community input to make better direct connections for interstate traffic and will be completed in 2016.

If we can move this project forward, there will be clear winners as a result: The nearby neighborhood will no longer have to endure the impact of idling trucks and our local economy will benefit from the efficient flow of consumers and goods coming into our community.

I accepted the governor’s appointment to the Bridge Authority’s board because I know his vision is clear and his desire is sound: He wants a better U.S. plaza because it will contribute to a better Buffalo. Let’s get this worthy project moving and keep up with the progress that the governor has made a priority.

Anthony M. Masiello is former mayor of Buffalo.