SCHUMER ANNOUNCES: FEDS HAVE GREEN-LIT CRITICAL FIRST STEP TO MODERNIZE THE U.S. PLAZA AT THE LEWISTON-QUEENSTON BRIDGE – SCHUMER VOWS TO CONTINUE PUSH TO SECURE FUNDS FOR $64 MILLION PROJECT THAT WOULD ALLEVIATE CRIPPLING DELAYS, IMPROVE SECURITY, ENHANCE FLOW OF COMMERCE & CREATE/SUSTAIN OVER 1,500 CONSTRUCTION JOBS
Crippling Wait Times At Lewiston-Queenston Bridge Hinders Growth Of The Regional Economy; Canadian Shoppers And Businesses Spend $1.7 Billion Per Year In New York State And Will Do More If Cross-Border Travel Is Safer And Smoother
Schumer Previously Urged GSA To Give CBP The Green Light To Move Forward On $64 Million Modernization And Expansion Of Lewiston Plaza
Schumer: Lewiston Bridge Plaza Project Can Finally Move Forward – Will Improve Traffic Flow, Bolster The Regional Economy, And Create & Protect Jobs In WNY
U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today announced that, following his push, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has approved a critical designation that will allow the expansion project for the U.S. plaza at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge to move forward. 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. Today’s approval from GSA is an important step in the effort to modernize the Lewiston-Queenston Plaza.
“The decision from the federal General Services Administration to green-light the $64 million plaza expansion at Lewiston-Queenstown Bridge will be a shot in the arm for Buffalo-area economy, create or sustain 1,500 local jobs, improve safety, and alleviate crushing wait times that hinder the cross-border commerce that is the lifeblood of the region’s economy,” said Schumer. “Clearing this first hurdle is great news for the travelers who all too often pull up to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and are then forced to sit in hours-long lines because of backups and delays. That is why I will keep pushing to ensure we are moving forward on this investment that will usher more travelers, shoppers and commercial vehicles into Western New York.”
The Western New York economy is bolstered by Canadian-U.S. trade, as well as shoppers crossing the border from Canada into Lewiston to purchase U.S. goods, bringing increased revenue to the Buffalo-Niagara Region. In fact, total trade between the U.S. and Canada exceeds more than $32 billion in products and materials annually. As a result, Schumer said an expansion of the Lewiston Plaza would not only cut down on the egregious wait times that are making it harder for visitors to cross the border, but also create and sustain over 1,500 jobs.
Schumer said the GSA was required to give U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) the greenlight it needed to begin securing funding for this project by way of scoring the $64 million proposal as an “operational” lease. GSA’s approval of this designation is the critical first step in the process that will now allow CBP to enter into a lease with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC) – which owns and operates the bridge – so it can begin securing funding to make the expansion a reality. Schumer said he will continue fighting to secure this funding and has vowed to call CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske to secure the financial commitments needed.
Schumer explained that the lengthy wait times at the bridge, particularly during the busiest 50-70 days per year, can typically exceed one hour and have peaked at nearly three hours. As a result, in April of this year, Schumer pushed CBP and GSA to partner with the NFBC to fully fund the expansion that would mean increased economic revenue for Western New York, good-paying local construction jobs, as well as new jobs and economic benefits for area residents. The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge spans the border between the U.S. and Canada and provides a critical link between the U.S. and Canada, as it helps support billions of dollars in trade each year. In fact, Canadian shoppers and businesses spend approximately $1.7 billion per year in New York State, much of which can be attributed to this bridge. Over three million passenger vehicles cross the bridge annually and it supports the fourth highest volume of commercial traffic on the U.S.-Canadian border. For this reason, Schumer said, it is important the U.S. address the congestion at the Lewistown Plaza at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge—which helps process visitors each time they cross the border into the U.S. from Canada.
Schumer explained that the GSA designating the $64 million modernization project of the bridge as an “operational” lease is the critical first step in making this project a reality. This designation means the CPB now has the green light to enter into a lease with the NFBC so it can begin securing the financial commitments to get this project underway. Schumer said that with stage one of this process complete, he will continue pushing CBP to move forward with the NFBC to begin construction on this massive plaza upgrade. Over the last year, both GSA and CBP have been engaged in ongoing discussions with the NFBC on the plaza improvement project, which have centered around a $64 million renovation that would address a number of issues at the plaza.
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 at the plaza. Schumer said the NFBC has stated it is willing to help share in the capital expenses for the project and, considering the fact that the Canadian Government in partnership with the NFBC recently invested over $140 million into the Canadian side of this plaza, the U.S. needs to do its part to advance the project to the design and construction phases needed to make these plaza improvement and renovations a reality.
“The General Services Administration signing off on this lease is a major step toward more efficient travel at this very important international border crossing. Lower wait times and smoother travel will benefit the Western New York and Southern Ontario economies immensely,” said Kathleen Neville, Chair of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “We thank Senator Schumer for his continued advocacy for this project and remain committed to working with our partners at U.S. Customs and Border Protection to make funding for this project a priority.”
“This very important project remains integral to addressing ongoing challenges at the outdated and deficient Lewiston Port-of Entry that directly impact border wait times and travel delays. By completing the much needed upgrades to the Lewiston plaza, we can increase safety and security and help alleviate congestion to better accommodate the substantial tourist travel and high volume of commercial traffic that regularly uses this border crossing,” said Lew Holloway, General Manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “With Senator Schumer’s leadership, we have taken a major step toward making this project a reality, and are extremely hopeful that U.S. Customs and Border Protection will follow the Senator Schumer’s lead by allocating the necessary funding to quickly allow the project to proceed."
In April, Schumer urged CBP and the GSA to invest in this plaza expansion and renovation project in partnership with the NFBC that would increase processing capacity and decrease wait times. Right now, the Lewistown Plaza can no longer support the high volume of traffic crossing the bridge. As a result, significant wait times and delays at the border are proving to be detrimental to the Western New York regional economy, which depends on this critical link for revenue and economic development. Schumer said delays are having a detrimental impact on Canadian shoppers who regularly cross the border to spend their money at U.S. shops, restaurants, and attractions. 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.
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 initial 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 effeciently 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 $140million 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.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator