Discord at the Peace Bridge escalated Saturday as two state lawmakers said they want the Peace Bridge Authority dissolved so New York State can make decisions about what happens on this side of the span – independent of the Canadian government.
State Sen. Mark Grisanti and Assemblyman Sean Ryan said the authority does not serve the interests of Western New Yorkers and that decisions regarding the U.S. side should be made locally.
The lawmakers plan to introduce the legislation this week in Albany.
Government officials with Transport Canada declined to comment, saying they had not seen a copy of the proposal.
But in a statement, they pointed out that the authority cannot be disbanded unilaterally by either New York or Canada.
They are upset with last week’s statement from Gov. Andrew Cuomo that he is frustrated with the delays in making improvements on the American plaza and other improvements.
The governor’s office had no comment Saturday on the announcement from Grisanti and Ryan.
If the two lawmakers succeed in dissolving the authority, management of the bridge would be taken over by the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, they said.
“We won’t create a new authority. Under law, control [of the Peace Bridge] would revert to NFTA,” said Ryan, a South Buffalo Democrat. “NFTA is in the transportation business.”
The NFTA then would create an entity to operate the Peace Bridge, similar to how the Metropolitan Transportation Authority operates New York City’s subways, buses and railroads and serves as a bridge and tunnel authority.
Saturday’s announcement follows an unsuccessful attempt Friday by the U.S. delegation to the binational panel to fire General Manager Ron Rienas – a Canadian. The Cuomo administration contends that Canadian members of the authority are slowing the pace of Peace Bridge projects on the Buffalo side of the bridge.
Asked if Cuomo is aware of the Grisanti-Ryan proposal, Howard Glaser, a top Cuomo aide, responded by email: “We have not seen the proposal but will evaluate the legislation.”
Under state law, the Peace Bridge Authority ceases to exist in 2020 or when its bonds are paid off.
The authority has $20 million in outstanding debt and $40 million in the bank, enough to “pay off debts and pay its obligations,” Ryan said.
Another concern for the legislators is the makeup of the authority board. The minister of transportation in Ottawa appoints five members to the panel. The U.S. delegation, however, includes three members appointed by the governor, one by the NFTA and one by the attorney general.
“They’re not a voting bloc,” Ryan said.
As a result, the Peace Bridge Authority has spent about $100 million in beautification efforts over the past 20 years on the Canadian side, while less than $20 million has been spent over the same period on the U.S. side.
“Public authorities are too often arrogant, unaccountable and lack transparency. The PBA is all of the above, and it is time that we shut down this dysfunctional authority,” said Grisanti, a Tonawanda Republican, who pointed to the Blue Water Bridge as an example of what could be.
The bridge, which spans the St. Clair River, links Port Huron, Mich., with Ontario. The Canadian government is in charge of its side, while the Michigan Department of Transportation manages the U.S. side.
Republican Sen. George Maziarz, who attended Saturday’s news conference, also supports the proposal.