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Peace Bridge politics affecting U.S. trade and commerce

Controversy is overshadowing proposed improvements to the U.S. side of the Peace Bridge, the border crossing between Buffalo, N.Y. and Fort Erie, Ontario. The proposal is causing tension amongst members of the bi-national authority that administers this important piece of infrastructure. 

According to a recent report conducted by CREATE homeland security center and the USC, the average wait time at the border crossing is seven minutes per vehicle. However, after visiting the border crossing on a weekday, many semi’s were waiting as long as 15 to 20 minutes.

Since coming to office, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has been pushing for an expansion of the plaza on the Buffalo side of the bridge. Cuomo said delays are having a negative impact on the western New York economy.

“There’s been 20 years of delay, 20 years of a lack of progress and that’s the problem and that’s what we are working to change. We’ve made progress recently and were going to continue to make progress, because Buffalo needs it,”  said Cuomo.

The recent progress Cuomo is referring to is the appointment of former Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello to the authority, but the expansion project has triggered disagreement between American and Canadian members of the Peace Bridge Authority.

The Cuomo administration recently proposed legislation to dissolve the authority altogether, claiming it was “a metaphor for dysfunction” and laying blame with the Canadians.

Craig Turner of the Buffalo/Niagara Partnership is concerned the tensions could eventually affect trade and commerce if a resolution isn’t found soon.

“The biggest issue over there is getting trucks across and the reason is there’s just not the room on the U.S. plaza for the trucks, there’s no staging area. If I can break it down for you as easily as possible you have five truck booths. If one of the agents decides to send a truck to secondary for more inspection, they pull into secondary. If another agent 90 seconds later wants to send another truck into secondary they send them, but they don’t have anywhere to go, that’s where the backup starts to happen,” said Turner.

According to the report, nine out of 10 trucks crossing the Peace Bridge into the U.S. are released after their initial inspection. Ten percent have a secondary inspection contributing to the backup Craig Turner refers to.

President of The World Trade Center of Buffalo/Niagara Chris Johnston declined to be interviewed for the story, but did say via email that his office had weighed in asking for federal mediation.

Republican Senator George Maziarz says there may be more to the standoff than just foot-dragging by our northern neighbor.

“The price of commodities is a lot more expensive on the Canadian side of the border, sales tax is, I believe is as high as 16 percent. I wonder if they’re saying you know what maybe making it more difficult for people to traverse the border is good for commerce on our side. Now, I don’t say that lightly, that’s not a very nice charge or opinion to make, but I’m just running out of options as to why they want to stall our side,” saya Maziarz.

But, Mayor of the town of Fort Erie Doug Martin, who used to sit on the board of the authority in the late 90's said any type of expansion project is going to draw some controversy, and dissolving the bi-national authority wouldn’t help the issue.

“This is supposed to be a joint partnership between two countries that have got peace and friendship between them and we should be doing this in a cooperative collaborative way and I think that’s hopefully what we will continue in the future,” said Martin.

The board is scheduled to meet again at the end of June, but no current members would provide comment for this report.

A spokesperson for Cuomo asked that the distinction be made that the legislation is actually being proposed by Senator Grisanti and Assemblyman Ryan. It has yet to be acted upon in either house and has not reached the Governor’s desk.

WBFO/Western New York reporter for the Innovation Trail.
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