Niagara residents crossing the Peace Bridge for a Sabres game, or a pound of wings, will have noticed some significant construction taking place on the international crossing.
A 186-million-dollar, three-year rehabilitation project to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie is two-thirds of the way complete, and according to officials things are moving along nicely. After a somewhat rocky beginning in which original plans called for an actual twinning of the bridge, the capital project has moved along relatively smoothly. Improvements include a rebuild of the U.S. customs plaza, a widening of the bridge approach on the U.S. side, and a complete restructuring of the bridge-deck including widening of the sidewalk for pedestrian and bike traffic, a new overlook, railings and lighting.
The project is fully self-financed. There are no tax dollars involved.
Ron Rienas, general manager of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority, says the only original portion of the bridge that will remain will be the steel arches. Rienas says all lanes are scheduled to re-open for the busy tourist season, no later than May 15th. The project is scheduled to be completed by the Spring of 2019.
The relatively smooth pace at which the major construction project is moving along is in stark contrast to its conceptual stages. While twinning the bridge was the original concept, that idea faced considerable backlash from environmental and other special interest groups. The argument was that two bridges would produce more traffic, and that would mean more pollution. There was also a lot of political posturing going on behind the scenes, particularly on the U.S. side.
Former Peace Bridge Authority Board Chair, Anthony Annunziata, says he is pleased to see the progress being made with the project nearing completion. “The United States and Canada are the two greatest neighbours in the world as far as I’m concerned,” says Annunziata. “At times the challenges we had in moving this project forward looked insurmountable. We worked hard to get this bridge the renovations it deserved.”
At one point, Annunziata points out, both President Obama and Prime Minister Harper were involved personally to make sure the project moved forward.
In 2017, 4.1 million passenger cars crossed the Peace Bridge, while 1.6 million trucks and 24,000 buses or miscellaneous vehicles, made the crossing.
The Peace Bridge measures 3,580 feet in length from abutment to abutment. The roadway is 36 feet wide from curb to curb with two six-foot pedestrian sidewalks on either side of the bridge. The Peace Bridge was originally designed to support two lanes of 20-ton trucks, with two tracks for 40-ton trolleys. Although the supporting structural steel is in place to support the trolley tracks, the tracks were never installed. Today, the Peace Bridge has been modified into a three-lane bridge, with twelve-foot wide lanes, able to accommodate heavy-duty commercial loads. The center lane of this three-lane bridge is reversible, allowing for two-lane operation in one direction during peak hours.