By Robert J. Duffy

When people hear Peace Bridge, different thoughts come to mind. Some people think of traveling to Canada, some people think of the traffic, some think of the new bridge that was discussed for years but never materialized.

I think of all of the above plus I see a lost opportunity for Western New York to grow and a lesson to be learned.

I am a lifelong resident of upstate. It seems to me I have heard new plans for the Peace Bridge discussed all of my adult life: talk with little action while more people left the region and Buffalo got smaller. Any major bridge improvement could have been a real economic boost for the entire region.

How did we lose the opportunity? Everyone points fingers. Some blame the Peace Bridge Authority, others blame the New York politicians and some say it was the controversy over a signature bridge.

All I know is that it was a terrible lost opportunity that cannot happen again. We see the economic potential of a major project in New York at the Tappan Zee Bridge – a $4 billion project energizing an entire region and moving forward in just one year from announcement.

And therein lies the current dispute at the Peace Bridge Authority.

The New York representatives want to immediately initiate a redesign of the Buffalo plaza to improve traffic flow, reduce pollution and route traffic around Front Park and the surrounding neighborhood instead of through it. They believe a plaza redesign should be fast-tracked – not at the back of the list after other Peace Bridge projects. By the Peace Bridge Authority’s current plans, it will be eight years before the plaza redesign is complete. That is unacceptable. Western New York cannot afford continued delay.

It is not a question of “getting along nicely.” We got along nicely for 20 years – and nothing got done. It is a question moving forward with the sense of urgency the situation requires. Buffalo has been hemorrhaging population and jobs. It must stop. The state has made an unprecedented commitment to turn Buffalo around. Our $1 billion pledge, SUNY 2020, the medical corridor, the waterfront redevelopment – there is more development taking place in Buffalo today than in decades. A world-class gateway on the New York side of the Peace Bridge must move forward with the same priority.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and I believe in the future of Western New York, and will not rest until the Peace Bridge is working for the people of Buffalo, as well as the people of Canada. If the Peace Bridge Authority is not capable of representing both interests, we are compelled to explore a better approach.

The elected representatives of Western New York are united in a virtually unprecedented bipartisan coalition to improve conditions for this region and Canada. Together.

Robert J. Duffy is lieutenant governor of New York State.