Call him Governor Disruption.
In the space of just two weeks, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has upended years of stalemate and dysfunction to produce in Western New York something that looks suspiciously like progress.
In mid-June, it was the standoff over casino revenues that the Senecas were withholding from New York and, by proxy, from Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Salamanca. Problem resolved.
On Wednesday, it was the confrontation over the lack of progress on the New York side of the Peace Bridge. After decades of failure and months of confrontation, that, too, was resolved.
Here’s what they had in common: a governor willing to disrupt long-standing patterns of behavior. In each case, he did it by acquiring a crowbar – of the metaphorical kind – and being prepared to use it.
In the case of the Senecas, it was the threat to put another casino in Niagara Falls and perhaps not to renew the casino agreement with the state when it expires in 2016.
For the Peace Bridge, the crowbar came in the form of legislation that could have dissolved the Peace Bridge Authority. That got the attention of everyone involved, and on Wednesday it produced an agreement that will see progress on the American plaza and the continuation of the authority as the bridge’s governing body.
In that regard, both sides came out as winners, but the agreement especially benefits Buffalo. The trick was to overcome Canadian fears of pursuing multiple projects simultaneously – fears legitimately acquired after years of obstructionism by various parties on this side of the border.
As outlined in a four-page “understanding,” the agreement calls for several projects:
• An expedited traffic study of the U.S. plaza followed by work to improve traffic flow, potentially including widening the plaza.
• Immediate reviews and approvals needed to implement the pre-inspection pilot project, in which trucks bound for the United States will be inspected in Fort Erie. The program is expected to begin in January.
• Other improvements to the U.S. plaza, including a plan for New York State to construct a new access ramp to the I-190, thereby removing Baird Drive from Front Park. That project is scheduled to be completed by December 2015.
Also, the customs warehouse will be upgraded, the U.S. approach to the Peace Bridge will be widened, Empire State Development will complete its purchase of the vacated Episcopal Church Home and the authority and New York State will cooperate on the state’s purchase of a block of Busti Avenue to separate the neighborhood from the plaza and bridge. That acquisition is to be completed by July 2014.
For all of Buffalo, and especially for those who live near the Peace Bridge, this is tremendous news. It calls an end to 20 years of non-production and gives neighbors certainty about the future. The plan to move truck pre-inspections to Fort Erie will also help to alleviate health issues caused by fumes from idling, backed-up trucks.
Albert Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different result. It was an uncomfortable few weeks as Cuomo maneuvered for advantage, as it also was in Niagara Falls as the governor turned up the pressure in the casino dispute. But both turned out well for all concerned and, in doing so, proved that Einstein was a genius.