December 7, 2002
Letter of Comment to be Entered into the Official Record for
Collaborative Workshop #4
New York 14202
Please consider these comments a part of the official
record for the subject workshop. My
comments delivered at the Grand Island public meeting held on November 14, 2002
are attached and shall also be made a part of the official record.
These comments are my personal views and do not represent the views of
any group, organization, government body or government agency.
I have had an opportunity to carefully study the alternative alignments for the Peace Bridge Expansion Project contained in the report entitled “Alternative Screening Process Technical Analysis Report” (TAR) dated November 20, 2002. In addition, I have kept up to date with the activities of the various special interest groups most of whom are probably represented here today.
It is clear that this alternative screening process has degenerated into a turf battle between special interest groups. We have the Olmstead Park Association instructing the public to support a Tonawanda bridge crossing, so that they can preserve Front Park. What they are asking everyone to do here today is to vote for the South of Grand Island alternatives thus putting into motion a chain of events that could lead to the commission of one of the most heinous environmental atrocities ever experienced in this region. To make matters even worse they have enlisted the aid of two political opportunists Robin Schimminger and Sam Hoyt who are all to eager to leverage the bridge benefits out of the City of Buffalo into the Town of Tonawanda.
There is no doubt that every single alternative developed during this screening process will have some degree of impact on the environment and our quality of life. The challenge should therefore be to find an alternative that has a neutral impact on both of these important attributes. The alternative screening process you have created has forced us to waste time and resources by pitting special interest groups and communities against one another. What we should be doing is looking for an alternative that meets regional transportations needs and does not impose a needless burden on the environment or our quality of life.
The Buffalo and Fort Erie Bridge Authority needs to give serious consideration to the study of the International Railroad Crossing alternative (Alternative Group F). This crossing coupled with the adjacent brownfield corridors represents the most viable option for an international crossing. The existing railroad bridge built in 1870 is nearing the end of its service life and needs to be replaced. Herein lies an opportunity to establish a modern intermodal gateway span that will efficiently shuttle rail and truck traffic between the United States and Canada.
The Buffalo and Fort Erie Bridge Authority and their agents have not embraced this alternative because of cost, its location outside the existing Peace Bridge corridor and the misguided belief that an impossibly complicated interchange would be needed to get traffic to and from the bridge via New York State Thruway Route 190. These factors appear to have been used for no other purpose, but to downplay the significance of the International Railroad Crossing option.
One alternative designated “IRR-6” with some modification represents the best plan for an international crossing. As depicted on page 37 of the TAR this alternative would involve the replacement of the existing International Railroad Bridge and the construction of highway links between the QEW in Canada and Route 290 in Tonawanda. However, this alternative calls for the establishment of a plaza and transportation link to the serpentine Scajaquada Expressway (Route 198) a highway that is a woefully inadequate for truck transportation. To make this alternative more efficient and practical the plaza and interchange proposed for Route 198 should be eliminated. An interchange should be established where the secure access corridor extending from the foot of the new bridge intersects with the Youngman Highway (Route 290). The required truck plaza could then be located at some strategic point within the vacant brownfield acreage adjacent to that corridor. Under this modified plan no interchange would be needed at Route 190.
The environment and quality of life benefits of modified alternative IRR-6 are significant. First, this plan will eliminate the far-reaching adverse environmental impacts associated with the South of Grand Island crossings. The high quality Niagara River ecosystem will remain intact and the daily flow of thousands of trucks through the streets of Tonawanda will be eliminated. An aging railroad bridge in danger of collapse just a decade ago will be replaced with a modern intermodal bridge design capable of carrying not only rail and truck traffic, but pedestrians and bicyclists as well. Establishing a dedicated highway corridor to the Youngman Highway will allow for the efficient movement of traffic eliminating the long lines of idling trucks and automobiles that now back up at the existing Peace Bridge crossing. In addition, bridge traffic would be able to utilize an interstate highway with three lanes in both directions rather than the existing Route 190 that has only two lanes in each direction.
The modified IRR-6 alternative will recycle two large brownfield sites on either side of the river. The clean up of both sites will result in the removal or containment of solid waste, demolition debris and contaminated soils thus reducing the pollutant loading of surface waters that eventually find their way into the Niagara River the drinking water supply of choice for many communities. The corridor between the International Railroad Bridge and Route 290 is a haven for midnight dumpers and vandals whose activities degrade property values and the quality of life of adjacent neighborhoods. Recycling the land within this corridor will suppress or even eliminate these activities triggering a revitalization of north Buffalo communities.
The benefits of this alternative to local businesses are also quite apparent. Trucks entering the United States at this crossing will be routed into the backyards of some of the largest manufacturing plants along the Niagara River. Once cleared by customs many would have only a short run to plants operated by General Motors, Dupont and Dunlop. This corridor is also bordered by the Buffalo and Tonawanda Free Trade Zones presenting yet another array of potential economic opportunities. Spin-off development spurred by the existence of this new international transportation link would augment the tax bases of the City of Buffalo and the Town of Townawanda potentially erasing the lost tax revenues associated with the presently vacant land adjacent to this corridor.
The modified IRR-6 alternative would not require the taking of parkland. Front Park would be spared and adjacent neighborhood homes would not have to be razed to accommodate the preferred Twin Span alternative. A new bridge at this location will also fully function as a symbolic gateway creating the inviting image sought after for the City of Buffalo. In addition, a modern intermodal bridge at this location would improve our national security by allowing the Homeland Security Agency to use state of the art technology to screen pedestrian and vehicle traffic entering the United States thus providing a more effective deterrent to terrorism.
The arguments in favor of the modified International Railroad Bridge alternative are compelling. This alternative offers a real opportunity to establish a world-class international crossing that stimulates regional economic growth without degrading the environment or our quality of life. You owe it to all of us to retain this alternative for further study and to reject the environmentally degrading Grand Island and South of Grand Island options. Focusing on the International Railroad Crossing will unite all of us in a common cause to bring success to western New York.
Paul G. Leuchner