U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is urging the federal government to provide $30 million to help a busy Western New York border crossing renovate and keep up with its traffic.
Appearing Monday morning on construction grounds on the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge's U.S. side, New York's senior senator pointed out that more than three million passenger vehicles cross the bridge each year. While it's good to see so many people use the bridge, he said, not being able to process them more efficiently - especially in the peak travel months - is a serious problem.
"On any given day you can spend well over an hour in a line of cars here at the border," Schumer told reporters. "And during peak hours, popular seasons to travel around and explore the area, some visitors have experienced three-hour waits."
Officials at the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission say they've effectively been maintaining an existing structure since it first opened, and are eager to expand.
"This plaza was built in 1962," said NFBC general manager Lew Holloway. "It's terribly outdated. It's very much undersized. You're talking about an administration secondary processing building of about 5,800 square feet. The one that's being proposed is 40,000 square feet. That'll give you an idea how much undersized it is."
A proposed $64 million renovation and expansion to the U.S. plaza would include the replacement of existing lanes and the addition of five lanes for passenger traffic inspection. The NFBC is willing to pick up a large share of the cost. Senator Schumer is calling on two federal departments - Customs and Border Protection and the General Services Administration - to come up with 30-million dollars.
"What they would do is very simple. All they'd do is increase the payments to the bridge, the lease that they pay, by about a million and a half a year," Schumer said. "That way the Bridge Authority could bond the $30 million, using the money they have as well, start the work and they money would come back and be paid in."
The crossing, said the senator, simply cannot wait much longer to be renovated, especially given the considerable business that could be lost on the U.S. side of the border if travelers become more discouraged by long waits at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.
"Eighty-two percent of the value of goods sold at the Fashion Outlet mall in Niagara County are purchased by Canadians," Schumer said. "Seventy percent of the passengers at Niagara Falls Airport are Canadians. The growth of other regional efforts - the Niagara Wine Trail, downtown Niagara Falls, both of which I've tried to help in the past - are dependent on visitors from Canada, too."
According to the senator's office, Canadian shoppers and businesses spend approximately one-point-seven billion dollars in New York State every year, while the entire US-Canadian trade partnership is worth about $32 billion.