BILL WIPPERT/Buffalo News
Vincent P. "Jake" Lamb stressed that the four options announced Friday are not final.
The current Peace Bridge site and the Town of Tonawanda deserve more study as potential locations for a new crossing, said the head consultant for the Peace Bridge Authority's binational review of what to build across the Niagara River.
Recommending further consideration of the Town of Tonawanda site represents a turnabout for Vincent P. "Jake" Lamb, manager for the binational review. In October, Lamb said he would recommend eliminating all but the Peace Bridge location for a new crossing.
Since then, County Executive Joel A. Giambra, some state lawmakers and residents from Buffalo's West Side have urged more consideration of a new bridge or tunnel across the Niagara River just south of Grand Island.
On Friday, Lamb recommended against further consideration of other locations, including Niagara Falls, Grand Island and the International Railroad Bridge north of the Peace Bridge, But at a public workshop scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. today in the headquarters of Western New York Public Broadcasting, 140 Lower Terrace, at Charles Street, participants will get another opportunity to rank all 30 alternatives rated at a workshop in September. Lamb, whose consultants had whittled down 59 possibilities to four preliminary recommendations, emphasized that he wanted to hear from those who attend today's workshop before drawing any final conclusions.
"This is not a final decision point," Lamb said as he announced the recommendations. "But it certainly is an important decision point."
Lamb said he had hoped to release his recommendations earlier and said Friday's announcement was not timed to exert any more or less influence.
"I'm cursed either way," Lamb said.
If he declined to make a recommendation, some would ask why hold back, he said.
If he does make a recommendation, others will accuse him of trying to influence the public his way, Lamb said.
"The options are in the public's hands," Lamb said. "They can disagree with every one of these alternatives, every one of these recommendations. I think I have an obligation to say this is what I think. And I'll continue to do that for the rest of the process."
Lamb recommended retaining the following alternatives for more study during the next phase of the environmental review:
Moving the U.S. plaza north of its current site and expanding capacity at the current bridge location. Most of the 16 acres now occupied by the plaza would become available for park expansion. This alternative, ranked first among those rated in September, would have an impact on as many as 300 commercial and residential properties, not including those needed for a buffer. It would involve expanding bridge operations into the residential area east of Busti Avenue and the commercial area along Niagara Street. It also could pose air quality problems. Moving the plaza to the east while expanding capacity at the current crossing. This would affect as many as 260 properties and would vacate 16 acres, potentially to restore Front Park and the former Fort Porter. It likewise would require expanding into the residential neighborhood east of Busti Avenue and the commercial district along Niagara Street. Expanding the current plaza, an alternative that ranked fifth at the earlier workshop. This would return nearly four acres to Front Park and require about 45 parcels. Spanning the Niagara River just south of Grand Island and building plaza in the Town of Tonawanda. The three alternatives involving this route finished ninth, 10th and 12th at the earlier workshop, the highest of any site other than the current location. This approach would divert traffic from the Peace Bridge and reduce air quality and noise problems on the West Side. It would also relieve congestion at the three Niagara County cross-border bridges and on the Grand Island bridges.
The cost of the Town of Tonawanda location is estimated at $950 million to $1.3 billion, higher than any alternative at the current Peace Bridge site. The bridge authority also has no jurisdiction outside the current corridor, Lamb said.
This alternative would improve the overall regional transportation system,
but, Lamb said, the authority doesn't have that responsibility, while the
agencies that do - the Greater Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council
and the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario - have no plans for a new crossing
along the Niagara River.