First the waterfront starts booming after decades of delay. Then it’s the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, suddenly burgeoning after a long gestation period. Now – hold onto your hats – there is movement on the Peace Bridge front. On Saturday, eight houses on Busti Avenue were demolished to make way for a new customs plaza that could clear the way for a new bridge that would fulfill a goal that dates to the 1980s.
The eight vacant and decrepit houses were torn down less than 24 hours after a federal judge put an end to years of legal wrangling over the structures, which preservationists wanted to protect for their historical value. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeremiah J. McCarthy ruled that while the homes “may have some historic value, they are also unsafe and crime-ridden.” He refused to grant a preliminary injunction to protect them and, with that, the houses came down.
It was the right decision. In fact, it was the only decision. The plaza needs to be expanded, though not as much as originally planned, and the houses were no longer worth saving. Neighbors of the blighted properties were also thrilled.
With demolition of the houses, the Bridge Authority should be able to move more quickly on expansion of the plaza and creation of a buffer zone between it and neighboring homes. Once that is done, all that remains is to build the new bridge.
That’s the reverse order of the original plan, but the Peace Bridge Authority abandoned the bridge-first plan because the scope of the original plaza project required federal money and intensive reviews. By scaling down the project, the authority was able to fund it without federal assistance, easing the process along.
The plan now is to seek federal assistance in the construction of the bridge, which was originally to be funded by the authority. Issues related to air quality in the neighborhood, tied to backed-up traffic and idling trucks, have yet to be resolved.
In the larger sense, it has taken too long to get to this point in the construction of the new bridge, which has become emblematic of Buffalo’s inability to get things done. But in another sense, progress has come at an opportune moment, placing an exclamation mark on the new story that Buffalo is writing on the waterfront, at the Medical Campus and around Larkinville.
That story is one of progress, of developing important assets that have gone unexplored for too long and of accomplishing the goals we set out to achieve. If Buffalo was led to believe over the years past that its efforts went nowhere, it is learning something new and valuable today.