West Side residents seek greater input on Peace Bridge projects

Jul 11, 2013

Residents of Buffalo's West Side want their voices heard when it comes to planned development around the Peace Bridge, which they say is the source of their health issues.

For years, people living near the bridge have documented their health problems, which they say stems from diesel exhaust from idling tractor-trailers on the busy cross-border span. One of the biggest health issues, they say, has been what they call a serious asthma epidemic that is a result of the poor air quality. 

A small rally led by the Clean Air Coalition was held in front of DOT offices in Buffalo Wednesday.
Credit Omar Fetouh/WBFO News

After a lengthy dispute, Governor Cuomo and Canadian officials recently announced an agreement on the Peace Bridge. The accord outlines a "road map forward" for the busy border crossing that includes improvements to the U.S. plaza and a pre-inspection pilot program to move truck inspections to the Canadian side. The improvements are aimed, in part, at relieving congestion and reducing pollution.

But concerned resident Betsy Murphy says she still has concerns about proposed projects near the bridge.

"To put it very simply, this issue is about geography. An expanded truck plaza does not belong in a crowded, dense residential community. We all know that people on the West Side are sick from diesel fumes. It's been proven. So we don't understand how introducing more trucks into the community will help. It'll make matters worse," Murphy says.

Affected residents held a brief rally in front of the State Department of Transportation office in downtown Buffalo Wednesday, chanting "We deserve better." The group of around 20 attempted to bring their public comments inside the building, but were turned away by a security guard. The comments will be delivered Thursday, instead. 

Clean Air Coalition of WNY organizer Natasha Soto says the coalition has been disappointed by what it calls a lack of outreach to members of the community throughout the process.

"No one could tell us what the project looked like and no one could answer any of our questions. Everyone gets to make decisions about our neighborhood except for us and we are here today to tell them that that is unacceptable. We live here. It is our neighborhood, and we deserve a say," Soto says.

Soto says residents weren't given enough notice about a recent community meeting on the issue. She says the coalition wants to see a Health Impact Assessment and more air monitoring done before work on any improvements begins.

The World Health Organization has declared diesel exhaust a known human carcinogen. The Peace Bridge is the nation's third-largest land port, hosting 20,000 cars and 4,000 trucks every day.

The state DOT on Thursday announced the public comment period for the New York Gateway Connections Improvement Project to the U.S. Peace Bridge Plaza has been extended. The comment period was set to expire today.

"To ensure that the public has a chance to be heard during the scoping process, NYSDOT and FHWA have extended the 30-day scoping comment period to the close of business on July 22, 2013," the DOT says.

"As the project development process is just getting underway, comments on the proposed project from individuals, groups and officials are welcomed. There will be additional opportunities for public comment throughout the environmental process."