By Bill Logal
Once upon a time there was a bridge in Buffalo called the Peace Bridge and by chance it spanned the Niagara River and joined the City of Buffalo with the neighboring Canadian town of Fort Erie and was built so that the wealthy elite could access their summer estates at Point Abino, Ontario, and other beach front properties that sprung up on the shores of Lake Erie. Well everything went peacefully for 7 or so decades until the Peace Bridge Authority decided to build a twin to the existing bridge to handle the increasing flow of truck traffic that was entering and exiting our great Northern neighbor Canada because of increasing trade and the interdependence of the economies of both Canada and the United States.
Plans for a twin bridge to serve the future transportation needs of both countries brought forth extreme pain and howls from a select group of the Buffalo citizenry led by our local daily news source. Thrown into the mix of steel, concrete, nuts and bolts were insurance issues, bond writers, aesthetics, environmental issues, health and welfare of residents, labor agreements, privatization and collapsing the Peace Bridge Authority in its entirety, to mention just a few. People flowed from under the baseboards grinding a multitude of axes representing various constituencies and suddenly we found ourselves in the midst of a maelstrom with meetings and charettes held in every venue and dutifully reported by our local paper. The Buffalo Club served as the headquarters for the aesthetes as they sought grand sweeping designs, a true Signature Bridge, where people would give homage to the great foresight and artistic flair of the elite. Artvoice and its champion writer, Bruce Jackson, weighed in on the side of the peasantry, while Jeff Belt and the Millenium Group became the preppie piper leading the yuppies in fervent cheers and shouts for their politician of choice and various political figures rushed to fill the vacuum created by our mute local leaders.
The other side of the river produced nary a hint of turbulence as Fort Erie went about its duty and worked assiduously at improving their inspection stations, truck plaza and the approaches to the bridge. The ugly old bridge has seen a lot of water flow beneath it with vehicular traffic running over it in the past ten years and it will likely see much more of the same as the debate continues.
The world and Buffalo has changed dramatically since a new bridge was proposed. We have the nut factor demanding that a fence be built around our borders from sea to shining sea, border crossings manned by armed special ops people and new security measures that require 15 different forms of identification plus a pure beef number tattooed on the right buttock of those seeking ingress or egress from the country of choice. These of course are only minor irritations that arose during our march for progress in acquiring a new bridge. After years of wrangling about design and bridge types the powers to be declared a suspension bridge to be the design of choice. It had steel cables stretching to the heavens and resembled a gigantic harp awaiting a heavenly host of angels to pluck the strings and make this edifice sing “I’m so pretty, Oh! so pretty.”
Sadly but truthfully, beauty has the ability to hide defects, even a breathtaking spectacular like a Signature Bridge when looked at critically exposes its fault lines. It is not the mechanics of the bridge but the threat it imposes to the ecology of the area, in this case the Niagara Corridor is a major bird flyway and provides passage for myriad species of waterfowl like geese, ducks terns and various species of gulls. Birds you say, birds, you mean you’re going to stop this bridge from being built by a few thousand birds that get killed because they fly into all those harp strings? Why just pick them up and stuff them so the kids will know what the birds looked like before they committed suicide on our Signature Bridge. Maybe we can get the birds to change their minds and use a more southerly route and avoid the Niagara River corridor entirely, failing that, Doug Turner might assemble a large contingent to throw stones at the birds thus deterring them from using their most familiar route.
With the rise in oil prices and truck fuels reaching the outer limits of owners and operators pocketbooks we will in all likelihood see a dramatic decline in border crossings by all types of vehicles, so is their really a pressing need for this grandiose statement for bridge architecture? How will it improve the quality of life for all the citizens of Buffalo and Ft. Erie? Will throngs assemble and marvel at the grand sweeping vision of a Signature Bridge? Isn’t it time to stop making grandiose claims and build a bridge to help us get from Point A to Point B without the glories of grand engineering and architectural visions to obscure the function and costs of building a new bridge.