Can Senator Kennedy bring transparency to Peace Bridge plaza expansion plans?

News and analysis by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post's environmental reporter

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Residents in Buffalo’s Lower West Side continue to be left in the dark about the Public Bridge Authority’s expansion plans for the U.S. plaza.

On Feb. 11, Kathy Mecca, representing the Prospect Hill Neighborhood Alliance, and three other neighborhood leaders sent state Sen. Timothy Kennedy a letter asking him to not support using funds for any road projects related to the Peace Bridge without first demanding full transparency of what exactly those plans are for the neighborhood. Kennedy’s district includes the neighborhood around the Peace Bridge.

I reported about a month ago how revenue from truck tolls and duty free stores could  be a driving factor in the push for the expansion. The Public Bridge Authority is considering expanding the U.S. plaza deeper into the neighborhood on Busti Avenue and relocating a larger duty free store at the Episcopal Church Home campus. But the authority has refused to release any plans of this expansion to the public even though they have been shared with some politicians and power players.

Mecca also mentions a 2010 research paper by the Institute for Homeland Security Solutions that states that bridge crossings that attempts to relieve congestion through expansions and road improvements can  lead to an increase in traffic. The paper states that a 1 percent increase in capacity may lead to a 0.2 percent to 0.8 percent increase in traffic. With more traffic, the benefits are reduced and congestion eventually returns.

For those on the Lower West Side, more truck traffic is a scary thought.

Not only are they concerned about the authority’s secrecy, but they’ve been hammering local politicians at the local and state levels for years about the numerous health studies that link the neighborhood’s high asthma rates to fumes coming from vehicles crossing the Peace Bridge.

The full letter can be downloaded here, but here is a snippet of it:

In addition to causing a health epidemic crisis, independent studies by the Partnership for Public Good and others have determined that an expanded plaza is unnecessary, provides no direct economic benefit to Buffalo, prevents new business development, adversely impacts surrounding property values and historic resources, blocks public access to the waterfront and erodes the quality of life for residents. It does however according to a recent report by Dan Telvock, Investigative Post for Artvoice, A Fast Passage or a Fast Buck, expediently increase PBA revenue.

The residents asked Kennedy to help them obtain:

  • Immediate implementation and completion of a full environmental impact study.
  • Public hearings to review the proposed plans and the DEIS.
  • A public comment period.
  • DOT compliance with transportation laws that evaluate adverse impact upon historic resources.
  • Full public disclosure of the PBA’s plans, including ramps, access roads, overpasses, increased inspection capacity, Duty Free Store, customs building and/or relocation of any plaza operations.
  • Comprehensive review of all asthma studies and air pollution reports including the peer reviewed studies conducted by Mukasa and Spengler which demonstrate how air toxins at the Peace Bridge crossing cause asthma and other illnesses.

Kennedy said he is reviewing the letter and will respond.

“When it comes to any public authority, neighbors and Western New Yorkers should be able to expect a level of transparency and accountability,” said John Mackowiak, communications director for Kennedy.