War and Peace Bridge
Say it again
This week, politicians and business leaders are lining up behind Senator Charles E. Schumer who restates his demand for more Customs Officers at the Peace Bridge. With average wait times increased 168 seconds, our leaders fear the collapse of our economy as visitors and truckers alike are delayed from their destinations.
Though US Customs and Border Protection’s reasons for transferring officers may be valid, our officials continue to act as if the sensible redistribution of personnel along our international borders is a personal affront, an injustice they cannot countenance.
Meanwhile, a threat to the Public Bridge Authority rises again, as the bill to dissolve this Binational body that manages the bridge and plaza is used to remind the authority it had better get moving on infrastructure improvement.
And speaking of infrastructure, the New York State Department of Transportation’s plan to segment plaza expansion by ‘improving’ access is unveiled to the public, although the need for such a project is questioned by an Investigative Post report and the agency’s process is challenged in a complaint by the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York.
All this and more…of the same.
Wait time at Peace Bridge has doubled
Doubling Down – Schumer issues call for more border agents
It’s important to note, US Customs and Border Protection has an overriding obligation to deploy personnel wherever analysis of existing data merits deployment; and since ‘Peace Bridge traffic into Buffalo is down,’ to conclude our security needs would be better served by transferring some Customs Officers and Agents elsewhere is an obvious and laudatory use of that data.
But if you believe several of our most prominent politicians and officials, this move has threatened to bring down our entire economy by depriving cross-border visitors of a few minutes valuable shopping time and also delayed the vast majority of commercial carriers from trampling our infrastructure on their way to destinations beyond our region.
Read the hysterical details in this Buffalo News article, as well asthis one (Schumer unhappy with Peace Bridge wait times), this one (Higgins, Collins press Customs to address bridge wait times), and read it here in Canadian (Higgins, Collins call on Customs & Border Protection to alleviate Peace Bridge staffing shortages).
Peace Bridge issue festers, as meeting is set
US opens sores – Cross border dispute holds authority’s fate
This Buffalo News article, not only rehashes this year’s ‘nasty rhetorical war’ between New York State and Canada over ‘progress’ on Peace Bridge plaza expansion but also exhumes Assemblyman Sean M. Ryan’s legislative ‘threat’ to dissolve the Public Bridge Authority if it doesn’t heel to the State’s command.
Were you holding your breath? Well you may exhale now, as this News article (Cooperative Peace Bridge Authority approves routine items) describes the spirit of goodwill exhibited at a 20-minute meeting of the bridge authority board at which ‘several routine items’ were approved, before all repaired to a ‘joint Christmas lunch’; no doubt on our dime. Bon Appetit.
Coalition to file complaint over Peace Bridge traffic planning
Not Good Enough
Air Coalition of Western New York the public meeting conducted by state DOT, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Parsons consulting group to tout their Gateway Connection Improvements Project ‘has violated the law on public participation process,’ nd the Coalition is filing a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Justice Department on behalf of the Peace Bridge neighborhood. The complaint asks the Justice Department to order the parties to comply with a list of demands designed to cogently inform the neighborhood’s multi-ethnic population. In addition, by moving traffic out of Olmsted’s Front Park, the plan improves neither “traffic (flow) or air quality,” the Coalition claims. In fact, “It just moves the problem to another neighborhood, primarily affecting people of color and low income.”
In response, the DOT claims it ‘went above and beyond… requirements for community input,’ but it was conspicuously silent on the issues of traffic and air quality.
And in this WBFO radio report (Peace Bridge work to ramp up in 2014), the next two years will bring multiple construction projects to the Peace Bridge plaza, Clean Air’s challenge notwithstanding.
Peace Bridge Project won’t improve air quality
All this for what?
Investigative Post continues its inquiry into the motives and anticipated results of Peace Bridge expansion withthis study (which includes video reports as well as links to diagrams and documents) of the above-mentioned DOT project. What it finds may surprise some: that despite the pronouncements of project participants and beneficiaries to the contrary, the nearly $30 million Gateway Improvements plan will provide “negligible” air quality improvement and “no perceptible change” in noise pollution.
How bad it that? Well ‘ the DOT project manager…declined an interview request to discuss the study’s findings.’ Guess the report speaks for itself.
However, besides the politicians who still support the project despite the tepid findings, another interviewee provided damning judgements. Peter Rizzo, a federal senior urban planner from Washington, DC had this to say:
“When you set aside all of the rhetoric and look at the facts, it’s pretty clear that the costs far outweigh the benefits of this investment.”
“When the state bills this project as one that will dramatically reduce vehicles dependence on local streets, it’s just hogwash,” Rizzo said.
“So they, themselves, were not able to prove overwhelmingly that this project is worth the investment and to state that this project somehow provides a tremendous benefit to the community is simply false advertising.”
And now, a word from our sponsors
Following is an official comment from the Niagara Gateway Columbus Park Association:
The Schumer Effect
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has called this week for more U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the Peace Bridge so that Canadians can get area shopping malls in record time. In the past year, average wait time to enter the U.S. increased by 2.8 minutes, and the peak hour wait time increased by 8.5 minutes. At the same time, CBP officials transferred over 60 positions serving the four Western New York bridge crossings to other locations due to a decline in cross-border traffic here.
While Schumer’s push for restoration of CBP positions is laudable, there are far more important issues at stake than getting Canadians to Abercrombie & Fitch, Forever 21, and Macy’s. What about our local small businesses, or even the health and well-being of the West Side? What’s more, increasing staffing levels at the bridge is just one of several major CBP operational changes needed to improve traffic flow at the border.
For example, CBP officers manning truck inspection booths also serve as cashiers, accepting cash and credit cards for payment of security processing fees from truckers. At the conclusion of their 90-minute shifts, those officers/cashiers stop traffic to count out their cash drawer before the next officer takes over.
Also, 25% of the trucks that enter the U.S. are completely empty. To prevent American’s from taking Canadian jobs, the Canadian government prohibits U.S. trucks from picking up cargo in Canada for delivery in the U.S. Drivers of empty trucks are not required to file an “electronic manifest” with CBP in advance of their arrival at a U.S. inspection plaza, meaning forms that are typically completed online by the truck operator before he arrives at the border must instead be completed on-site, thereby holding up the line.
In addition, operations at the U.S. Peace Bridge plaza amount to a choreographed ballet of cars and trucks negotiating a plaza designed only for passenger vehicle traffic. By shifting all commercial truck traffic to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and restoring the Peace Bridge to a passenger vehicle only crossing, CBP officials could concentrate commercial cargo processing at a single location in Western New York, thereby increasing efficiency and reducing redundancies in costly truck inspection equipment.
This strategy is what’s needed for our economy and what’s needed for the West Side. The overwhelming economic benefit of the Peace Bridge is in passenger vehicle traffic, which ushers people into our community who shop at our stores, eat at our restaurants, and attend our sporting and cultural events.
Schumer could easily have a major and lasting impact on the situation, if he would only commit to advancing a comprehensive CBP efficiency and operational restructuring initiative, instead of limiting his efforts to something as narrow as adding a few additional CBP officers into the mix. It’s time to step back, assess, and respond with the big picture in mind.
Weekly Reader Exclusive: Federal officials neglect mandatory environmental review for pre-inspection project
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that federal agencies consider the environmental consequences of their actions. This applies to federally-funded projects, like the ill-conceived NY Gateway Connections Project, and those that are privately funded for use by the federal government, like the planned CBP pre-inspection plaza expected to open on the Canadian side of the border. Whether on domestic or foreign soil, if the federal government is involved, NEPA must be rigorously followed.
Rumor has it, however, that federal officials have no plans to complete an Environmental Impact Statement, per NEPA, for the widely-touted Pre-Inspection Pilot Project, even though it could have a dramatic impact on traffic and air quality for children and adults in Fort Erie, ON, and may not reduce pollution levels in the West Side. Whether “pilot” or permanent, an environmental review is mandated before any shovel meets the ground, and failure to carry out this obligation will undoubtedly stop this project dead in its tracks.
Unfortunately, government regulators, local media, and the legal community have not caught on to this egregious breach of government trust. Perhaps this “hint” will get the wheels turning.
Wishing all of you Peace, Love, Health and Happiness this Holiday Season; and remember…