By Michael Regan
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In a sign of work to come on a contentious plan by the city of Buffalo and the Peace Bridge Authority, New York state announced Friday that it would construct a new ramp on the U.S. side of the bridge that will tie into a planned truck plaza.
The plan for the plaza, which includes knocking down homes in one of Buffalo’s oldest neighborhoods, has raised concerns from nearby residents who already are incurring what the local environmental group, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, said was four times the national rate of asthma.
Despite these concerns, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Friday the state will building a new traffic ramp that connect to the future plaza directly northbound of the I-190. He said the ramp would reduce congestion and traffic flow for both commercial and private vehicles and make the area more effective for travel between the United States and Canada.
The project will also utilize the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy master plan, which was adopted into Buffalo’s comprehensive plan, to revitalize the historic Front Park by removing Baird Drive, according to Cuomo.
“This project is a win for the city of Buffalo, the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy and the Peace Bridge plaza neighborhood because it will provide efficient and effective traffic movement between New York state and Canada and improve commerce between the two economies,” Cuomo said in a statement released Friday. “By removing Baird Drive and having Peace Bridge traffic utilize Porter Avenue and the Thruway, we will move traffic away from a residential neighborhood, provide better border security and restore the historic character of Frederick Law Olmsted’s Front Park.”
But Natasha Soto, a community organizer with Clean Air, said those in the neighborhood, many of whom are low income, weren’t brought into the discussion.
on the process, which she said was often held in Canada where those without passports or an enhanced New York license would be unable to attend. She added that the Olmsted Parks Conservancy was as well as the Buffalo River Yacht Club were involved in the process.
“We feel that the governor and the authority should definitely be reaching out to the neighborhood instead of reaching out to elitist membership organizations who are nowhere near the west side,” Soto said. “It’s just an issue of transparency and the democratic process. The people who live there should be involved.”
Sam Hoyt, president of the Empire State Development Corp. in Western New York and chairman of the Peace Bridge Authority, said residents had plenty of time to comment during an environmental impact study that he said was “by its very definition a very public and open process.”
“I’m dumbfounded,” he said. “We’re moving cars and trucks that are virtually on top of city residents and moving them onto a highway.”
He added Cuomo’s primary goal for the Buffalo region was to improve its economy, part of which is bolstered by Canadian commerce.