04.20.15

SCHUMER: FEDS MUST FUND $64M MODERNIZATION PROJECT FOR THE US PLAZA AT THE LEWISTON-QUEENSTON BRIDGE TO HELP ALLEVIATE CRIPPLING DELAYS; WOULD CREATE AND SUSTAIN OVER 1,500 CONSTRUCTION JOBS & CUT DOWN ON EGREGIOUS WAIT TIMES – SCHUMER LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO HAVE FEDS APPROVE FUNDS ASAP

Schumer: 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 Detrimental Impact on the Regional Economy; Canadian Shoppers and Businesses Spend $1.7 Billion Per Year in New York State

 

Schumer Urges CBP & GSA to Fund Desperately Needed Plaza Expansion To Improve Traffic Flow, Bolster the Regional Economy, & Create and Protect Jobs in WNY

 

Schumer: Lewiston Plaza Expansion is Vital to Supporting U.S.-Canadian Trade, Which Accounts for $32.2 Billion Per Year 

 

Standing near the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to help fund the $64 million expansion project to the U.S. plaza at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. 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. 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. In fact, total trade between the U.S.-Canadian trade exceeds more than $32 billion in products and materials annually. Schumer said that 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. Schumer said that 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, it would also create and sustain over 1,500 jobs. Schumer pushed CBP and GSA to partner with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission 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.

 

“Too often travelers are pulling up to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and sitting in long lines, or, even worse, not even attempting to make the trip to Western New York at all to avoid these backups and delays. These egregious wait times at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge cause headaches and are a drag on the economy. We need to invest in this much-needed plaza expansion to usher more travelers, shoppers and commercial vehicles into Western New York, more efficiently,” said Schumer. “So I am urging two federal agencies to work with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission to fund this $64 million plaza and bridge renovation project, which would be a shot in the arm for Buffalo area businesses, create and sustain 1,500 local jobs, and pave the way for greater economic development opportunities for all of Western New York.”

 

The Lewiston-Queenston Bridge spans the border between the U.S. and Canada and is owned and operated by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC). Schumer said this bridge 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. Schumer said the Lewiston Plaza expansion is vital to supporting U.S.-Canadian trade, exceeds more than $32 billion in products and materials annually.

 

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. 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. Under current circumstances, Schumer explained, wait times during the busiest 50-70 days per year can regularly exceed one hour and have even peaked at over three hours. Schumer said delays like this 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.

 

As a result, Schumer is urging the federal Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and General Services Administration (GSA) to invest in a plaza expansion and renovation project in partnership with the NFBC that would increase processing capacity and decrease wait times. Schumer explained that, 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 urged CBP and GSA to help fund this $64 million project, which he said would help reduce wait times and congestion at the bridge and grow the regional economy. Schumer also explained that the NFBC 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.

 

Schumer said doing this would 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 and sustain over 1,500 good-paying, local jobs. Therefore, Schumer is urging CBP and GSA to fund the $64 million expansion project to the U.S. plaza at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge and said design and construction phases must get underway so as to not further delay investment into this plaza.

 

Schumer was joined by Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Chair Kathleen Neville; Niagara Falls Bridge Commission General Manager, Lew Holloway; John Percy, CEO of Niagara Tourism and Convention Corportation; Dick Palladino, Business Manager for Laborers Local 91; as well as other representatives from local labor organizations.


“U.S.-Canadian trade is absolutely vital to the economic prosperity of the Niagara region, and all of Western New York,” said John Percy, CEO of the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corporation. “The expansion of the Lewiston Plaza will bolster trade, and make it easier for our friends from the north to come to the U.S. and enjoy our many tourist attractions, businesses, restaurants, and more. I know that Senator Schumer truly understands the importance of Canadian business to the Western New York economy, and I am thankful he is spearheading this effort.”

 

“Improvements to the Lewiston Plaza are a major priority for the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and will allow us to achieve our mission of facilitating the movement of goods and people in a safe, efficient, and effective manner,” said Kathleen Neville, Chair of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “An improved Lewiston Plaza means not only important construction jobs, but also long-term economic benefits for the Buffalo Niagara bi-national region. Our integrated economies depend on smooth border travel and Senator Schumer's ongoing advocacy for this effort has and will continue to be critical to ensuring that this vital project gets done.”

 

“Border wait times and delays caused by the constrained Lewiston Plaza are of very serious concern to the Commission, and American and Canadian travelers alike,” said Lew Holloway, General Manager of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission. “Senator Schumer has demonstrated a keen understanding of the importance of this border crossing to both the Western New York economy and the overall Canadian-American trade and tourism relationship. His continued work and support to make improvements happen at the Lewiston Plaza, coupled with the Commission's own financial commitment, is exactly what is needed to get this port project completed.”

 

The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (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 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.

 

Sincerely,

 

Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

 

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