FORT ERIE, Ont. – After loudly protesting delays in Peace Bridge projects for almost a year, New York’s representatives to the Peace Bridge Authority asked Friday to hold up for at least six weeks final approval of a $72 million plan to replace the span’s aging deck.
Sam Hoyt, head of the U.S. delegation to the binational authority, emphasized that he and his colleagues remain supportive of the project. And he and the others all joined in approving the five-year, $168 million capital plan involving several Peace Bridge projects, including improvements to the Buffalo plaza that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aggressively sought earlier this year.
While traffic problems are expected in coming years during some phases of the capital project, bridge officials noted that no toll increases are expected.
But Hoyt said the project will cause significant travel problems on a span often noted for its traffic jams, and requested until the next meeting Nov. 22 to study various options the authority’s consulting engineers presented.
“I, and I believe my colleagues, are prepared to approve the budget that includes the $72 million,” he said during Friday’s meeting of the authority, “but we want to take a little more time to review the recommendation to determine if it is prudent and won’t delay in any significant way the work that needs to be done. Our inclination is to support this at the November meeting.”
He added following the meeting that four options were presented to the board only 11 days ago, and the New York caucus will seek opinions on those options from more experts.
“With an impact on the community in potentially three construction seasons, we had better make the right choice,” he said.
While Hoyt’s move to table the redecking plan was unanimously approved, it signaled a tiny crack in the veneer of cooperation that has marked the Canadian-American body since a serious disagreement over the pace of progress on the U.S. side was settled in June by an “understanding” between Ottawa and Albany.
And while Chairman Anthony M. Annunziata, a Canadian, agreed with Hoyt’s move, he emphasized that getting the project under way soon remains a “necessity.”
On that score, Hoyt agreed.
“The U.S. caucus believes redecking is a necessity and is prepared to act,” he said.
No matter what approach is adopted for redecking the bridge, authority officials noted Friday that the project is bound to result in traffic problems once it gets fully under way in the fall of 2015.
Parsons Transportation Group and Clough Harbor Associates, consulting engineers to the authority, have recommended completely replacing the original deck on the 1927 span in a project requiring full-time lane closures during the fall, winter and spring seasons.
The project is expected to take three years, and will include adding a bikeway. Preceding that project, $13 million will be spent to widen the approach to the Buffalo plaza.
That project is slated for completion in November 2014 and is expected to help relieve some of the congestion caused by closing one lane for redecking.
Other key aspects of the multiyear construction plan include:
• Commercial warehouse renovation: A $23.6 million reconstruction of the current commercial warehouse on the U.S. side that goes to bid in January and is slated for completion in early 2016.
• Pilot project for commercial pre-inspection: About $1 million will be spent on the project to determine if trucks can be efficiently processed in Fort Erie to speed up traffic across the span. If proven successful, it could lead to an expansion of truck inspection booths on the Canadian side.
• Changes to U.S. plaza: The authority approved a traffic study that will help determine what projects are needed on the Buffalo side, a key aspect of the agreement reached between the Cuomo administration and Canadian government earlier this year.
Various other projects include roof replacement on the R.F. Willson Building on the Buffalo plaza, new signs on the Canadian side, and completion of the landscape restoration project on Busti Avenue.
All of this occurs as authority officials predict a continued drop in automobile traffic at about 1 percent annually, offset by revenues from a 1 percent increase in truck traffic and significant income from the two duty free stores operating on the bridge.
Finance Manager Lynn Bogdan told the board the entire project can be financed without raising tolls, and will be mostly paid for with reserves and operating revenues. But she said about 30 percent of the cost will involve borrowing, which falls safely within the authority’s debt limits.
“We certainly in no way are maximizing our debt,” she said.