Congressmen Chris Collins and Brian Higgins have jointly signed a letter to a federal government agency, urging action on a plan to expand and improve the US plaza at the Peace Bridge. While the Peace Bridge Authority backs the federal lawmakers, at least one Buffalo Common Council member has now expressed concerns for the acquisition of land Higgins says will be needed.
The plan backed by Collins and Higgins, as well as the Peace Bridge Authority, would shift critical equipment, including x-ray scanners and radiation detectors, to the Fort Erie, Ontario side of the international crossing. American personnel, however, would remain on the Buffalo side of the US-Canada border.
"This project will improve national security and public safety. It will cut wait times by more than 50 percent. It will improve aesthetics and functioning," Higgins said, standing near the inspection booths on the Buffalo side of the Peace Bridge.
Collins was absent from the Monday morning news conference, traveling to Washington DC at the time though representatives of his office were present. Higgins verbally acknowledged Collins' partnership in a push to expedite the process to upgrade the Peace Bridge Plaza. The two have co-signed a letter to the General Services Administration, urging action.
Higgins said that nothing had been done at the plaza for forty years. But he added that now, that could be seen as a good thing as it gives bridge and customs officials the opportunity to utilize new technology in order to speed up processing and reduce wait times, without a need to amend or renegotiate existing treaties on shared border responsibilities.
"No treaty changes will be required here and we will meet or exceed the goals of shared border management," Higgins said.
The Buffalo-based plaza measures an estimated 17 acres. Higgins says about eight more acres will be needed for the expansion plan. This drew a written statement by Common Councilmember David Rivera, who raised concerns about infringement on neighborhoods and compromise to recently developed greenspace.
Higgins noted that a large portion of the land sought for the expansion is already owned by the Peace Bridge Authority. He also suggested that the reduced wait times would help curb the pollution that triggers health issues such as asthma.
The Peace Bridge Authority is currently undergoing a five-year, $175 million capital plan. Already, $50 million has been earmarked for improvements to US Customs inspections but Higgins indicated more money will be needed to build the updated facilities that will be required.
"Additionally, Congressman Collins and I are going to seek federal money from any number of sources, including efforts to improve border security along both the south and north borders," he said.