By Robin Schimminger
The purpose of a bridge is to bring two sides together, but Wednesday’s vote by the State Senate and Assembly for legislation to dissolve the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority will have the reverse effect.
Unfortunately, my Assembly colleagues voted 92 to 49 in favor of advancing ill-conceived legislation that will likely dissolve the PBA and lead to chaos at the border, not progress.
For more than 80 years, the 10-member board, consisting of five Canadian and five U.S. members, has been tasked with establishing and collecting tolls to secure sufficient revenues to meet Peace Bridge maintenance and operation expenses, and fulfill terms and pay-off obligations of any bond agreements. This legislation would require the payoff of any outstanding debts and cripple the authority’s ability to undertake future financing. Major multi-million-dollar construction projects like redecking the bridge would be indefinitely delayed and $50 million in improvements to the U.S. plaza, scheduled to start next month, would be postponed.
Also at risk is the truck cargo pre-inspection pilot program announced this spring by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Canada’s public safety minister, Vic Toews. The authority has been working to improve the border crossing processes at the Peace Bridge for years and was selected as one of two U.S.-Canada border crossings to benefit from this program, which would move primary truck inspection to the Canadian side of the border where there is more open land. This could considerably reduce and even eliminate truck backups on the bridge and significantly cut down diesel emissions from idling trucks.
The Peace Bridge facilitates more than $40 billion in commerce between Canada and the United States every year, including $9.1 billion in yearly business sales for the Buffalo Niagara region. In this region there are countless manufacturing and logistics companies that rely heavily on the efficiency of the Peace Bridge, and so we must ask ourselves what impact will this have on these companies? What about the companies and many workers that would benefit from the construction jobs associated with the Peace Bridge moving forward with its approved plans? Would New York State be able to collect revenues to support future bridge and plaza improvements, since the tolls were previously moved to the Canadian side to free up space on the U.S. plaza?
There are too many questions left unanswered to have advanced this reckless proposal. A much more productive approach would be to sit down with the Canadian members of the authority, resolve these differences with the same mutual respect we have maintained for decades and work out a mutually beneficial plan. Let’s hope that cooler heads ultimately prevail.
Robin Schimminger, D-Buffalo, represents the 140th Assembly District.