01.19.16

SCHUMER ANNOUNCES: FEDS HAVE APPROVED $50 MILLION MODERNIZATION PROJECT FOR THE U.S. PLAZA AT THE LEWISTON-QUEENSTON BRIDGE; PROJECT WILL CREATE AN ESTIMATED 1,200 NEW CONSTRUCTION AND RELATED JOBS, SUSTAIN AND PROTECT COUNTLESS OTHER JOBS ACROSS WNY & CUT DOWN ON EGREGIOUS WAIT TIMES

During The Busiest 50-70 Days Per Year, Wait Times At Lewiston-Queenstown Bridge Regularly Exceed One Hour – And Have Peaked At Nearly Three Hours, Which Has Had a Detrimental Impact On The Regional Economy; Canadian Shoppers & Businesses Spend $1.7 Billion Per Year in New York State

CBP & GSA Heeded Schumer's Call & Agreed to Approve Desperately-Needed Plaza Expansion To Improve Traffic Flow, Bolster the Regional Economy, & Create and Protect Jobs in WNY

Schumer: Fed Approval Means More Local Jobs & Less Waiting Time For Visitors

Standing at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) have heeded his call and given final approval to the $50 million modernization of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in Western New York. Schumer said that this expansion will not only cut down on the egregious wait times that make it difficult for visitors to cross the border, but the expansion will also create over 1,200 local jobs, according to the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC). Increased tourism and commerce from Canada will also protect and sustain countless other jobs across Western New York, especially in Lewiston and Niagara Falls. 

The Western New York economy is bolstered heavily by Canadian-U.S. trade, as well as shoppers crossing the border from Queenston into Lewiston to purchase U.S. goods and bring increased revenue to the Buffalo-Niagara Region. Schumer explained that there have been crippling delays at the bridge in recent years and the resulting wait times have been detrimental to the regional economy. Schumer said that lengthy wait times at the bridge, particularly during the busiest 50-70 days per year, typically exceed one hour and have peaked at nearly three hours. Therefore, Schumer pushed CBP and GSA to partner with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC) to fully fund the expansion of the plaza to cut back on wait times at the bridge.

“The Lewiston-Queenstown Bridge is a critical artery to cross-border commerce and is the lifeblood of Western New York’s regional economy – but the U.S. plaza has needed a major upgrade for years. The fact that CBP and GSA have heeded our call and finally approved this $50 million expansion to the plaza is great news for Buffalo and Western New York,” said Schumer. “Improving and expanding the plaza will do three important things: it will improve safety, alleviate crushing wait times, and create jobs. This project will mean 1,200 new construction and related jobs, and the increased commerce from Canada will protect and sustain countless other jobs all over WNY. This project will be a massive shot in the arm for the Western New York economy.”

The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge is a critical link between the U.S. and Canada and is owned and operated by the NFBC. The Lewiston Plaza processes both commercial traffic and passenger vehicles crossing the border into the U.S. supporting billions of dollars in trade each year. U.S.-Canadian trade exceeds $32 billion per year, and Canadian shoppers and businesses spend approximately $1.7 billion per year in New York State. Over three million passenger vehicles cross the Lewiston-Queenston bridge annually and it supports the fourth highest volume of commercial traffic on the U.S.-Canadian border. However, due to recent wait times, many Canadian shoppers avoid the Lewiston-Queenston bridge, or avoid shopping in the U.S. altogether. The Lewistown Plaza can no longer support the high volume of traffic crossing the bridge and, as a result, significant delays at the border have become damaging to the Western New York regional economy. For this reason, Schumer said it is important that CBP and GSA address the congestion at the Lewistown Plaza.

Schumer said delays of one to three hours have deterred Canadian shoppers who regularly cross the border to spend money at U.S. shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions, all of which employ hard-working Western New Yorkers. In fact, 82 percent of the value of goods sold at the Fashion Outlet Mall in Niagara County are purchased by Canadian shoppers, and 70 percent of passengers at the Niagara Falls Airport are Canadian travelers. Furthermore, the growth of other regional efforts, like the Niagara Wine Trail and downtown Niagara Falls, are dependent on visitors from Canada. Expanding and improving the plaza will sustain local jobs and support new job creation.

Schumer has spearheaded the expansion from the beginning. During an April 2015 visit to Western New York, Schumer initially urged CBP and GSA to invest in a plaza expansion and renovation project in partnership with the NFBC that would increase processing capacity and decrease wait times. During this visit, Schumer explained that, over the last year, both GSA and CBP have been engaged in ongoing discussions with the NFBC on the project, which would address a number of issues at the plaza.

In October 2015, Schumer announced that the GSA approved a critical first-step designation that allowed the project for the U.S. plaza at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to move forward. Schumer explained that GSA was required to give CBP the greenlight to begin securing funding for this project by way of scoring the proposal as an “operational” lease. This allowed NFBC to begin securing the financial commitments to make the expansion a reality. In October, Schumer vowed to continue pushing CBP to move forward with the NFBC to fund the project and begin construction on this massive plaza upgrade.

Schumer said today that the news that CBP and GSA have agreed to partner with the NFBC to fund this $50 million project is good news for Western New York, as it will help reduce wait times and congestion at the bridge and grow the regional economy. Schumer said doing this will help ensure that New York State businesses can tap into the Canadian market and encourage Canadians-U.S. trade and tourism. If wait times and delays are not reduced, Schumer said, area businesses and the region could suffer if Canadians decide to shop on the Queenston side of the bridge rather than sit in hours of traffic waiting to get to the U.S. side. Schumer also said that, in addition to the long-term benefit to the Western New York regional economy, this project would help to create or sustain thousands of good-paying, local jobs.

Specifically, the plan includes: 

  • Removal of the existing single story, 5,257 sq. ft. Administration/Secondary Processing building
  • Construction of a new 32,833 sq. ft. Administration/Secondary Processing building which is comprised of 16,126 sq. ft. on the first floor and 16,707 sq. ft. on the basement floor
  • Removal of the existing 6 auto lanes and 4 truck lanes.
  • Construction of 9 new auto lanes, 6 new truck lanes and 1 new separate bus processing lane including new booths, canopy and access tunnel
  • Expanded outdoor secondary canopy and parking

Schumer was joined by Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Chair, Kathleen Neville; Niagara Falls Bridge Commission General Manager, Lew Holloway; John Percy, CEO of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation; Supervisor of the Town of Lewiston, Steve Broderick; and representatives from local labor.

“The funding of the Lewiston Plaza project is an important regional trade and transportation priority that will have immense economic benefits for both Western New York and Southern Ontario,” said Kathleen Neville, Chair of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “Senator Schumer’s tenacious efforts in reaching agreement with various federal agencies of jurisdiction and securing a financial commitment from U.S. Customs and Border Protection is nothing short of incredible.”

“The advancement of improvements to the outdated Lewiston Plaza will have profound impacts on border wait times and reduced travel delays in the Buffalo Niagara regions,” said Lew Holloway, General Manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “Senator Schumer’s continued advocacy on behalf of more efficient border travel has proven to be the defining factor in making the funding of the Lewiston Plaza expansion a reality. These much needed upgrades to be funded by U.S. Customs and Border Protection will increase safety and security at the port-of-entry and help alleviate congestion to better accommodate the high volumes of passenger and commercial traffic that regularly use this bridge crossing.”

“The expansion of the Lewiston Plaza will help enhance commercial trade and will allow our Canadian customers to more easily travel to Western New York to patronize our businesses and restaurants, and enjoy our many tourist attractions,” said John Percy, CEO of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. “US-Canadian trade is vital to the economic prosperity of the Niagara region, and all of WNY. We know that Senator Schumer understands the importance of Canadian business, and we are thankful for his tireless efforts to secure this funding.”

The NFBC is a bi-national transportation entity that was created in 1938 by a joint resolution of the U.S. Congress.  It is licensed to operate in Ontario under the Extra Provincial Corporations Act.  NFBC owns and operates the Rainbow Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge, and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.  The eight member Board of Commissioners consists of four appointees by the Governor of New York and four appointees by the Premier of Ontario. 

A copy of Senator Schumer’s original letter to both GSA and CBP appears below:

Dear Administrator Tangherlini and Commissioner Kerlikowske:

The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and Plaza, which is owned and operated by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC), is critically important to the Western New York economy. The bridge provides a vital link between the United States and Canada and helps to support billions of dollars in trade each year. Over three million passenger vehicles cross the bridge each year alone, and the bridge supports the fourth highest volume of commercial traffic on the Northern Border. Despite it’s critical importance to the US economy, investment in the US plaza in Lewiston, NY has been neglected in recent years. As a result, the current plaza facilities are outdated and cannot efficiently support the volume of traffic currently crossing the bridge, causing significant wait times and delays at the border. In an effort to address this issue, I urge you both to work together to invest in a plaza expansion and renovation project in partnership with the NFBC.

Over the last year, both GSA and CBP have been engaged in an ongoing discussion with the NFBC on a plaza improvement project. This discussion has centered around a $64 million improvement project that would address a number of issues at the bridge. Specifically, the plan would add five additional inspection lanes for passenger vehicles and replace six of the existing passenger lanes. In addition, the plan would replace the existing hi-low lanes and one of the existing commercial inspection lanes. Finally, the plan would add an additional bus processing lane, expand parking both for officers and secondary inspection, and expand the outdoor canopy. The cost of this project, which totals $64 million, is more than reasonable and the NFBC is willing to help share in the capital expenses. By advancing this project CBP and GSA can help reduce wait times and congestion at the bridge and grow the regional economy.

Under current circumstances wait times on the busiest 50-70 days per year can regularly exceed one hour and have peaked at over three hours. Delays like this can have a detrimental impact on the regional economy which is dependent on Canadian shoppers regularly and efficiently crossing the border. In fact, 82% of the value of goods sold at the Fashion Outlet Mall in Niagara County are purchased by Canadian shoppers, and 70% of passengers at the Niagara Falls Airport are Canadian travelers. Furthermore, the growth of regional efforts, like the Niagara Wine Trail and downtown Niagara Falls, are dependent on visitors from Canada. Adding additional inspection and bus processing lanes will help ensure that New York State businesses can tap into this growing Canadian market.

The cost of this project, which must be approved by both CBP and GSA, can be amortized over a long-term lease allowing your agencies to defray the cost in any one budget window. Specifically, with the current proposal, the cost to CBP and GSA would be an additional $1.7 million per year over 20 years. Considering that the Canadian Government, in partnership with the NFBC, recently invested over $140 million into the Canadian side of this plaza, it is entirely reasonable to request a $30 million investment from the U.S. government. In addition to the long-term benefit to the regional economy, this project would also help to create or sustain over 1,500 jobs. Given these factors, I urge you to immediately enter into an agreement with the NFBC to advance this project to the design and construction phase. We cannot further delay investment into this plaza.

I appreciate your consideration of this request; should you need additional information please do not hesitate to contact my office.

Sincerely,

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

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