We Need To Build A New Peace Bridge Now (Rep. Brian Higgins)
Last week, I met with local business leaders in my district in Buffalo, New York to ask for their support in the effort to push for immediate action leading to construction of a new Peace Bridge. The Peace Bridge connects Buffalo, NY to Fort Erie, Ontario. It is the second busiest passenger vehicle crossing and the third busiest commercial crossing between the United States and Canada. Our countries’ mutual investment in the Peace Bridge has paid dividends many times over, producing commercial and economic development that would never have been possible if citizens of each country did not have easy access to the other side of the border.
Though the commerce facilitated by this bridge is critical to Western New York’s vulnerable economy, this vital piece of infrastructure has been in dire need of enhanced capacity for some time. Buffalo’s economy is highly dependent on predictable and efficient access to Southern Ontario, a market of more than 8.1 million people and the second-fastest growing economy in North America. In fact, right now the Canadian Dollar is reaching historic highs in terms of its value compared to the US Dollar, making travel to the US a more desirable option for Canadians. Yet in 2006, when across all points of entry into the US there was a 7.6% increase in Canadian visits, crossings at the Peace Bridge actually fell. This suggests congestion and unpredictability at the inadequate, three-lane Peace Bridge turning Canadian visitors away from Western New York.
A major cause of delay in construction of a new Peace Bridge has been the failed negotiations for Shared Border Management (SBM). Under SBM, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers would have moved to Fort Erie, Ont., where they would have inspected all U.S.-bound cars and trucks. This bi-national solution for expanded capacity at the Peace Bridge was announced in December of 2004. Now, after two-and-a-half years, and many failed attempts at reconciling our two countries laws to make SBM a reality, the Department of Homeland Security announced it is unwilling to pursue further negotiations for SBM.
The Western New York Region cannot afford to wait and hope for a new federal administration, still years away, that could lead to an agreement on Shared Border Management. For Western New York to reach our economic potential we need to build a new Peace Bridge now. Choosing to add another multi-year delay to this long-stalled project is not responsible or acceptable. Now is the time to join together and support efforts that put shovels in the ground and people to work on a new bridge right away.