|View of the Lewiston Queenston Bridge
|Schumer stands on makeshift platform to talk about bridge expansion.
|Traffic gets tied up at the customs plaza which US Senator Chuck Schumer proposes to expand adding five new car inspection booths. Since trucks frequently get caught behind cars in lanes waiting to be inspected, trucks are needlessly delayed from getting to one of three trucks inspections booths. With cars moving more quickly, it is expected that trucks will save significantly on waiting times too, which may encourage more truckers to use the bridge than are currently using it.
Last week, Sen. Charles Schumer announced he is seeking to secure $30 million in funding for a total $64 million first phase expansion of the customs plaza on the US side of the Lewiston Queenston bridge.
Schumer said the antiquated and undersized plaza is the cause of traffic delays which are hindering Western New York’s ability to fully tap into the Southern Ontario market.
Schumer said that over three million passenger vehicles cross the bridge annually and it supports the fourth highest volume of truck traffic along the entire U.S.-Canadian border.
Schumer said that lengthy wait times at the Lewiston Queenston bridge, particularly during the busiest 50-70 days of the summer season, typically exceed one hour and have peaked at nearly three hours.
“We should be making it easier for people who want to come here,” he said. “If you spent three hours sitting and waiting on the bridge, you probably are not coming back.”
The plan supports expanding the US side of the bridge's customs plaza from six to 11 passenger inspection lanes, add a bus processing lane, renovate the three truck inspection lanes, and increase secondary inspection facilities, officer's parking lot and the outdoor canopy.
The plaza, which was constructed in 1962, and has had only minimal improvements since it opened.
Schumer said that an expansion would not only cut down on the wait times, but would expand Canadian visitation and add more truck traffic which would "create or sustain 1,500 jobs".
Schumer's announcement met with near universal praise from media and public officials alike.
However, one official, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey says he’s concerned that an increase in truck traffic will lead to health problems for Lewiston residents, as many claim it has for those living in the neighborhoods surrounding the Peace Bridge in Buffalo.
In a letter to Schumer, (click here to see the letter) fired off after the press conference, Brochey wrote, “I’m all for economic growth in our area and to increase the speed and flow of Canadian traffic in our County. This brings money into our area and the tax generated helps our budget tremendously.”
But, citing health concerns outlined in a series of articles that appeared in the Buffalo News when talk of expansion at the Peace Bridge stirred controversy starting in 2006, Brochey wrote, "A higher rate of young people with asthma was noted, and there was talk back then about diverting more truck traffic to Lewiston because of this.
"Last year I called Rep. Higgins to try and stop this. He had an aide call me back and tell me not to worry and that it wouldn’t happen. "According to his office, they felt that the Grand Island bridges were too narrow for that kind of flow of trucks, and that even the toll plaza wouldn’t be able to handle the anticipated extra flow.”
About 1.25 million trucks crossed the Peace Bridge in 2014.
About 720,000 trucks crossed the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in 2014.
These two bridges carry a greater percentage of motorists with non-local destinations because of their connections to major arterials than the other two local international bridges, the Whirlpool Rapids Bridge and the Rainbow Bridge.
Lewiston-Queenston connects vehicles with the I-190 in Lewiston and King's Highway 405 in Queenston, Ontario.
“This bridge is a major artery between the U.S. and Canada and it needs triple bypass surgery,” Schumer said, adding that he will press both the federal General Services Administration and U.S. Customs to provide at least $30 million of the $64 million being sought for the first wave of the plaza’s expansion.
The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission which owns and operates the bridge would be expected to bond the difference.
Schumer said the federal funds he hopes to secure for the Lewiston Queenston expansion project would not impact efforts to secure federal dollars for expansion efforts on the U.S. side of the Peace Bridge.
“The Peace Bridge has the money, but not the space (to expand its plaza), while here (the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge), they have the space but not the money,” Schumer said.
Like much of the local media, Niagara County Tourism and Convention Corp. CEO John Percy was among the first to endorse the Schumer proposal.
“U.S.-Canadian trade is absolutely vital to the economic prosperity of the Niagara region, and all of Western New York,” said Percy. “The expansion of the Lewiston Plaza will bolster trade, and make it easier for our friends from the north to come to the U.S. and enjoy our many tourist attractions, businesses, restaurants, and more. I know that Senator Schumer truly understands the importance of Canadian business to the Western New York economy, and I am thankful he is spearheading this effort.”
But potential health problems, Brochey said, need to be addressed.
“In that immediate area of the American side of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is our Mount St. Mary’s Hospital, Sacred Heart Villa School, Mount St Mary’s Child Care Center and Our Lady of Peace Nursing Care Residence, plus three separate residential areas.
“The area I’m referring to is 100 yards to one-quarter mile from the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge,” Brochey wrote.
Brochey suggested that a study be undertaken regarding the potential health risks for Lewiston residents before rushing into any massive expansion project.
“I’m encouraging you, Senator Schumer, to please take a hard look at doing a health study for our seniors living close by at the Nursing Care Center, the children at Sacred Heart Villa School and Mount St Mary’s Child Care Center,” he wrote. “I would also like to see a study done for noise decibels that may come from loud trucks and cars that may decrease the quality of life for those living in that area. We do not want to worry about asthma or other health related illnesses that may occur in our future like what has happened in Buffalo.”
Schumer, along with US Rep Brian Higgins, have been confronted by residents living near the Peace Bridge on the West Side of Buffalo for years who claim that the millions of trucks that drive through their neighborhood has caused severe pollution-related health problems for residents.
Some who have advocated for the Peace Bridge expansion say that the economic gains made by bridge expansion cannot be downplayed and that the health problems are not caused by the number of trucks but by the time the trucks are held up waiting for customs - something that would be solved by expansion.
The Buffalo News touched on this theme in a recent editorial.
"Among the problems has been exhaust fumes that come, at least in part, from trucks idling on the bridge, sometimes for hours, as poor plaza design and other inefficiencies slow traffic coming into the United States," the News wrote.
Meantime Schumer touts by the numbers the importance of the Canadian visitor and how expansion will serve the region's economic interests:
** Canadian shoppers and businesses spend approximately $1.7 billion per year in New York State, much of which can be attributed to the Lewiston Queenston bridge.
** U.S.-Canadian trade, exceeds more than $32 billion in products and materials annually.
** 82 percent of the value of goods sold at the Fashion Outlet Mall in Niagara County are purchased by Canadian shoppers
** 70 percent of passengers at the Niagara Falls Airport are Canadian travelers.
Some residents living close to the Peace Bridge however say that Schumer and Higgins have a pattern of conflating Canadian shoppers, concert goers, tourists, and airport travelers with diesel trucks to buttress their arguments for their need to expand the Peace Bridge.
“Higgins, Schumer, et. al. are locked in an endless cycle of government doublespeak. It is untrue. It’s simpleminded. It’s tiresome. No attempt at mitigation will restore the health of this neighborhood. If implemented, these measures will only bring more diesel traffic into this densely populated urban environment. No matter how swiftly the traffic moves, the toxic threat remains. Schumer says ‘it’s about the economy.’ Whose economy?” asks Peter Certo, a long time West Side resident.
In addition to the $64 million first phase plaza expansion at the Lewiston Queenston Bridge, an additional $84 million in future phase expansion plans has been mentioned and would match recent Canadian efforts.
Last year, the Canadians wrapped up a $130 million plus expansion project on their side of the bridge where both customs and the toll plaza is located.
Click below to see the letters from Brochey to Sen Schumer and another letter from Sen Schumer to GSA and CBP.
Text of Letter from Brochey to Sen Schumer on Lewiston - Queenston Bridge 'Expansion'
A copy of Senator Schumer’s letter to both GSA and CBP appears below: