End of Canada, U.S. dispute gives Peace Bridge a chance

Buffalo, N.Y. — The Globe and Mail

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, right, shakes hands with Ambassador Gary Doer of Canada after announcing a Peace Bridge deal in Buffalo, N.Y., Wednesday, June 26, 2013. (David Duprey/AP)

Canadian and United States representatives have averted a potential border dispute by reaching an agreement after months of heated argument over the future of the Peace Bridge, the second-busiest crossing between the U.S. and Canada.

The agreement, which was announced Wednesday, will expedite $140-million in projects including widening and upgrading the plaza on the U.S. side of the bridge in Buffalo, and construction of a customs house.

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“Negotiations can sometimes get passionate and heated but our aspirations are aligned,” said Brian Higgins, the state representative for the Buffalo area.

“To be truthful, on the American side we just haven't had our act together but now we're prepared to move forward.”

But the deal was not struck easily. Improvements to the American side of the crossing have been delayed for years. New York state officials were quick to point the finger north of the border, claiming Canadian officials were deliberately stalling the process despite Ottawa’s claims to the contrary.

Things took a particularly bitter turn earlier this month when New York lawmakers passed a bill that could dissolve the Peace Bridge Authority, the bi-national governing body for the crossing.

The language in the agreement hints at the growing animosity over the long delays in improving the American side of the 86-year-old structure. It states “The Peace Bridge performs as a single enterprise with a presence and operation on both the Buffalo and Fort Erie side, and to optimize the bridge’s performance, both plazas must be developed and improved to their fullest.”

One of the largest and most pressing undertakings outlined in the agreement is the upgrading and expansion of the U.S. plaza. Aimed to be completed in just three years, the $40-million to $50-million project will be funded by the PBA, with leftovers from the New York works fund footing $15-million of the bill. The first step – a traffic study – is set to being in just a few weeks, showing just how eager the Americans are to get their long-awaited improvements under way.