Photo by Bruce Jackson.
Photo by Bruce Jackson.

Hopefiends: On a New Peace Bridge

by / Oct. 19, 2015 3pm EST

I first heard the word “hopefiend” years ago when I was doing a lot of research in the drug world. People would say, “That dude’s not a dopefiend; he’s a hopefiend. He thinks the fix will fix things. It never does.”

Anthony M. Annunziata, current chair of the bi-national Peace Bridge Authority (the chair alternates, year by year, from an American to a Fort Erie resident) recently burst forth with the notion of doubling the Peace Bridge. Three more lanes! Back to 1998!

Congressman Brian Higgins immediately piled on, saying there was a lot of money for a new bridge in Detroit; similar money could come here. There would be construction jobs!

The Buffalo News, which last year did six above-the-fold, page-one articles pimping for a new downtown stadium (which makes no economic sense at all) immediately joined in with an editorial on October 16 endorsing Annunziata’s dream, which also makes no economic sense at all.

(In the last 30 years, fewer and fewer cities have planted stadiums in the heart of town. Increasingly, they’re on the periphery. Baltimore’s is out where the interstates cross. San Francisco’s is 20 miles away. The Mets’ Citi Field is surrounded by three expressways and a golf course. Only the old ones, the first generation, are downtown. Nobody anymore wastes acres of precious downtown waterfront space for a stadium.)

The News had the downtown stadium wrong and it has the Peace Bridge expansion wrong.

After I read the editorial I listened to Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” the last stanza of which goes, in part:

An’ here I sit so patiently

Waiting to find out what price

You have to pay to get out of

Going through all these things twice.

Bridge expansion was an argument and discussion we went through here in the late 1990s and well into the next decade. There were commissions, councils and committees. We talked endlessly about the aesthetics—whether to match the current bridge or to build a new span entirely—and then dumped the whole idea. Because we realized we didn’t need it.

During the years the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (as the Peace Bridge Authority was then called) tried to come up with a viable plan the various constituencies would accept, and get an Environmental Impact Study done, bridge traffic began to decline. The decline began even well before the September 11, 2001 attacks turned the American side of the bridge into an armed camp. It has continued ever since. It is now down 40 percent from the pre-expansion era.

The PBA for a while argued that the current bridge, finished in 1927, was in such terrible condition it had to be replaced. Then it decided that repaving was all that was needed; everything under the top deck was in fine condition.

Annunziata’s theory, one shared by the Buffalo News editorial writers, is out of the fantasy baseball movie Field of Dreams: “If we build it they will come.” Both Annunziata and the News argue that more lanes will result in more cross-border traffic, and that will be good everybody’s economy.

The editorial is addled. It suggests that more lanes will make it easier for Canadians coming over here to buy things to get home. But that isn’t the problem now and it never has been. The problem for the Canadians isn’t getting home; it is getting into the US. That’s my problem, too, and yours.

There are two arguable hypotheses here. The first is that more lanes will make a difference in traffic flow. They won’t. The second is that more lanes will be good for Buffalo economically. There is no evidence for that.

Nearly all the truck traffic coming across the bridge now passes through town and goes somewhere else: It gets on the I-190 and goes east or west and doesn’t even gas up within the county limits.

The bottleneck occurs not on the bridge, but once you’re off it, at the US inspection stations. Adding more lanes won’t fix that problem. Better pre-clearance of trucks in Canada and populating the gates we now have will. How many times have you come back from Fort Erie and found half the booths closed?

The coverage of the Peace Bridge expansion project by the Buffalo News more than 15 years ago was, I thought at the time, little more than stenography for the PBA. (Except for opinion pieces by Donn Esmonde and Doug Turner, and cartoons by Tom Toles: They got it right.) The recent editorial is no better. It still ascribes to the absurd notion that the jobs created by a one-year construction project benefit the area economically beyond that single year.  Congressman Higgins has bought into that too. I can see why he does it: It gets him votes from the construction industry. The News should be able to think further ahead than a two-year congressional term.

We don’t need another bridge. We need to ratchet down the plaza paranoia and to populate the booths that are so often shut tight.

The first 64 of Bruce Jackson’s many articles on the Peace Bridge expansion project were published in The Peace Bridge Chronicles (Center Working Papers, 2003).