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By Arthur J. Giacalone

Business First Buffalo ranked Rep. Brian Higgins “Number One” on its list of the 250 “most influential” people in Western New York.

Higgins has great influence throughout the region. Tragically, for the residents of Buffalo’s Lower West Side, he has consistently used that clout to frustrate efforts to meaningfully reduce the adverse impacts of diesel fumes and other truck-related toxins on the health of the thousands of children and adults living near the Peace Bridge.

In June 2012, Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown sought to slow down the Peace Bridge Authority’s plans to demolish a block of houses on Busti Avenue to make way for expansion of the U.S. plaza. The mayor’s action occurred after he met with community representatives and a noted public health research scientist, Dr. Jamson Lwebuga-Mukasa. The lung disease and asthma expert described the heartbreaking health impacts of Peace Bridge truck fumes on the lives of nearby children.

In response, according to The News, Higgins “expressed great displeasure with the latest Peace Bridge delays,” and remained determined to keep the focus on “the bigger picture.”

“You want to lose the Buffalo Bills? Don’t build the bridge. You want to lose the Buffalo Sabres? Don’t build the bridge. You want to lose JetBlue and Southwest? Don’t build a bridge. You want to devastate the retail economy of Western New York? Don’t build a bridge.”

More recently, Higgins weighed in on News reports that discussions had taken place among a group of federal officials last year concerning the possibility of moving Peace Bridge truck traffic to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to address the high rates of childhood asthma in the adjacent residential neighborhood. The congressman was shocked by the story – not because efforts to ameliorate a clear environmental injustice had been scuttled – but because he and other regional officials were not part of the conversation.

Higgins defended the anemic environmental review to assess the impacts of the various projects in and around the Peace Bridge. And he has insisted, unconvincingly, that the piecemeal activities around the New York side of the bridge will reduce diesel fumes by improving efficiency at the U.S. plaza.

Much more realistic is the assessment Dr. Lwebuga-Mukasa gave the mayor:

“After a transient decrease in traffic congestion at the bridge, traffic volume will increase as truckers take advantage of decreased congestion …”

It is time for Higgins to see the true “big picture,” and to use his impressive clout to protect the health of the people who live under the poisonous cloud created by Peace Bridge traffic.

Arthur J. Giacalone is a semi-retired lawyer who comments about land use and environmental issues at http://WithAllDueRespectBlog.com.