Fight Over Control of Peace Bridge Escalates

3:55 PM, Apr 29, 2013   |    comments
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BUFFALO, N.Y. - The simmering dispute between the Canadians and Americans over control of the Peace Bridge may be coming to a boil.

Some New York leaders are trying to dissolve the public authority controlling the bridge, meaning this dispute could become an international problem. A member of Congress even weighed in on Sunday.

The Peace Bridge was named for the spirit of cooperation between the Canadian and American governments. But when it comes to controlling the bridge, the peace has suddenly given way to hostility.

"The problem is not going to go away unless we change the corporate structure of how that Peace Bridge works," said New York Assemblyman Sean Ryan, D-Buffalo, who has become a vocal critical of the authority.

The bridge, which was was used by more than 6 million vehicles last year, is run by the Peace Bridge Authority. Five board members are appointed by the Canadian government, and five by the Governor of New York. Its long-time general manager is Canadian.

The authority keeps and spends the money collected from the tolls. According to Governor Cuomo's office, the Canadians on the board are refusing to use some of that money to expand the bridge plaza in Buffalo to ease traffic on the city's West Side, despite making similar improvements on the Canadian side.

Ryan, along with New York State Senator Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, are introducing bills to dissolve the entire authority.

RYAN: We wouldn't have to create another authority. It would simply go to the NFTA, which is, after all, in the transportation business and they could administer the New York side of the bridge.

REPORTER: You've been highly critical about the way the NFTA has been run. If you don't like the way they're running things now, why would you want them to be in charge of this?

RYAN: We're very happy with some of the changes that have been made at the NFTA as a result of some of that criticism. The previous board president has left. We have a new board president in Howard Zemsky. We have a new executive director in Kim Minkel. I think the NFTA is on a good foot, and I hope that they continue to operate in that manner.

According to Assemblyman Ryan, the authority is sitting on a bank account of more than $50 million, which he said the authority could easily use to ease congestion on the American side of the bridge.

The U.S. government would have to go along with dissolving the authority. Congressman Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said he'd rather see the authority's board work things out, but shared in the frustration.

"People have been hearing about Peace Bridge expansion for the past 25 years, and nothing has been done." Higgins said Sunday. "The Canadian side is completed. And if you look at the new plaza on the Canadian side, it's functional. It's aesthetically pleasing, and it works very, very well. That's what we want for the American side and everybody will benefit from it."

Friday, when we tried to speak to Anthony Annunziata, who is the Canadian board chairman, he would not answer our questions on camera.

ANNUNZIATA: Because I'm committed to working with our American colleagues to making sure that this works, and I don't want to add any fuel to an already heightened political situation.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Do you think... Do you think...

ANNUNZIATA: Thank you very much. Thank you (keeps walking).

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