Peace Bridge neighbors to finally see some plans

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

Buffalo’s West Side residents will get their first opportunity to see and comment on plans for what the state is calling the “NY Gateway Connections Improvement Project to the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza.”

That’s a clever name for a project that involves work on roads leading to and from the plaza, rather than expansion of the plaza itself. For more detail on this project, read our April 4 report.

Tuesday’s meeting is at D’Youville College at 329 Porter Ave. in the Porterview Room on the second floor. The open house parts are from 3-5 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. Presentations will be at 4 p.m. and again at 7 p.m.

This meeting—and a public hearing later this year—are required as part of the federal environmental review process.

See project map here

View the aerial map version here.

Right now cars and trucks have two ways to enter the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza. The state’s plan is to remove one of those entrances (Baird Drive) to restore a small portion of Front Park, and construct a single three-lane entrance just a few blocks away on Porter Avenue near 4th Street, as depicted in the picture below.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 1.15.36 PM

Engineers will have to explain how reducing access to the plaza to one point of entry via a traffic circle will help move cars and trucks more efficiently and reduce idling in the neighborhood. Traffic circles are widely used to slow traffic, not move it more efficiently and faster. Could this traffic circle result in logjams on busier traffic days?

Project planners have said in prior interviews that the remedy to potential bottlenecks resulting from directing all Canadian-bound traffic to this single point of entry is removing the traffic light near the Duty Free store as vehicles drive toward the booths.

State officials want to begin the road projects by spring 2014 and have put the environmental review process on a fast track.

This is part of the $22 million plan that state officials say will reduce congestion and idling trucks that produce diesel emissions that exacerbate asthma. Local studies have found that one in three West Side homes has at least one person suffering from asthma, as we reported a few weeks ago.

The West Side is largely a minority neighborhood with nearly half living below the poverty line. Federal and state environmental justice rules state that low-income, minority communities cannot bear a disproportionate amount of health and environmental impacts from any project and the process the state is undertaking has to show that this work will have a benefit to the community.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised during his gubernatorial campaign to partner with the environmental justice communities to “strengthen environmental protections.”

That said, Cuomo is pushing hard to redevelop the plaza on the U.S. side. “Get ‘er done” is the message.

On Tuesday, Cuomo and his allies will find out what the community wants done.