The Peace Bridge Authority is celebrating the end of a multi-year, $100 million rehabilitation project which officials say will add many more years to the life span of a critical crossing for the region's important cross-border traffic.
Work included a widening and strengthening of the span, full replacement of the bridge deck and structural steel, new traffic control gantries, railings and light posts. By widening the span, crews were able to put in a new bicycle and pedestrian path as well as a new observation deck right at the U.S.-Canada border line.
"Many people said this project could not be done, that we could not redeck an old bridge under traffic conditions and that we would not be able to keep such an important border crossing functional during construction," said Kenneth Manning, vice chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority. "I'm here today to say that they were wrong."
The project was self-financed, without the use of U.S. or Canadian federal dollars. Among those invited to speak was one of the workers who, along with his crew, endured some gruelling conditions as they carried out their tasks as traffic continued during the construction. They included working through winter conditions.
"We had minus 27 degrees. We had 40- and 50-mile-an-hour winds, constantly," said Bill Friend, with Ironworkers Local 6 in Buffalo. "I haven't seen this in the daytime in so long, I forgot what it looked like. We've done it at night and the nights have been a big challenge. There's shadows everywhere.
"People coming up with headlights. It could be dangerous. Cars come up pretty fast and there's no way to slow them down until they're right on top of you. Traffic was a big challenge. Customs was hard, too. These guys have got a job to do, so they're stopping cars. We get stuck in that same traffic like you guys when you're leaving the bridge."
Officials from both sides of the border say fixing the bridge was an important step towards maintaining economic flow into both nations.
"It's one of the most used connections for passenger travel between the United States and Canada," said Buffalo mayor Byron Brown. He and other speakers including Fort Erie mayor Wayne Redekop acknowledged the many Southern Ontario visitors to Buffalo who take in cultural and sporting events.
And, of course, it's also one of the busiest border crossings along the U.S.-Canada border for commerce. Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament representing Niagara Centre, says nearly nine million U.S. jobs depend on bilateral trade while one in every six Canadian jobs depends on exports.
"The Peace Bridge is an integral part of the Niagara-Hamilton-Western New York trade corridor, reaching over 44 percent of North America's annual income within a one-day's drive," he said.