Project will create an estimated 1,200 new construction and related jobs, sustain and protect other jobs across WNY, and 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 and businesses spend $1.7 billion per year in New York
Standing at the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer today announced the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. General Services Administration have heeded his call and given final approval to the $50 million modernization of the bridge in Western New York. Schumer said 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. Increased tourism and commerce from Canada will also protect and sustain 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 there have been crippling delays at the bridge in recent years and the resulting wait times have been detrimental to the regional economy. He said 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 to fully fund the expansion of the plaza to cut back on wait times at the bridge.
"The Lewiston-Queenston 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," Schumer said. "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.
"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 owned and operated by the Bridge Commission. 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 3 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 long wait times, many Canadian shoppers avoid the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, or avoid shopping in the U.S. altogether. The Lewiston 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 CBP and GSA address the congestion at the plaza.
Locally, Canadian shoppers purchase 82 percent of the goods sold at the Fashion Outlets Mall in Niagara Falls, while 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 said.
Schumer has spearheaded the expansion from the beginning. During an April 2015 visit to Western New York, he 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, Schumer announced 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 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 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-square-foot administration/secondary processing building
•Construction of a new, 32,833 square-foot administration/secondary processing building, which is comprised of 16,126 square feet on the first floor and 16,707 square feet on the basement floor
•Removal of the existing six auto lanes and four truck lanes.
•Construction of nine new auto lanes, six new truck lanes and one new separate bus processing lane, including new booths, canopy and access tunnel
•Expanded outdoor secondary canopy and parking
Niagara Falls Bridge Commission Chairwoman Kathleen Neville, Niagara Falls Bridge Commission General Manager Lew Holloway, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. CEO John Percy, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Broderick and representatives from local labor joined Schumer.
"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," Neville said. "Sen. 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," Holloway said. "Sen. 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," Percy said. "U.S.-Canadian trade is vital to the economic prosperity of the Niagara region, and all of WNY. We know that Sen. Schumer understands the importance of Canadian business, and we are thankful for his tireless efforts to secure this funding."
The NFBC is a binational 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 Ontario premier.