In Wake of President’s Call for Infrastructure Investment, Export Expansion and Job Creation, Higgins Pushes for Peace Bridge Construction
As Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) listened to the President lay out his agenda for job creation and economic opportunity in Tuesday’s State of the Union Address he was struck by how one project in particular had the potential meet many of the goals outlined – Peace Bridge expansion.
“If this nation is serious about creating jobs, doubling our exports and helping to sustain and create businesses in America we can start by moving forward on construction of a new Peace Bridge,” said Congressman Higgins, a member of the House Homeland Security and Foreign Affairs Committees.
In his State of the Union Address President Obama stressed the importance of “rebuilding America.” He said, “To attract new businesses to our shores, we need the fastest, most reliable ways to move people, goods, and information…” and continued with, “America is the nation that built the transcontinental railroad, brought electricity to rural communities, constructed the Interstate Highway System. The jobs created by these projects didn’t just come from laying down track or pavement. They came from businesses that opened near a town’s new train station or the new off-ramp.”
Passenger vehicles entering the U.S. from Canada spend an estimated $235 million annually in the U.S., supporting businesses and jobs locally and nationwide. The recent World Junior Hockey championship in Buffalo, NY, which brought thousands of Canadians across the border to spend money in the U.S. each day and led to hours long delays at the existing three-lane Peace Bridge, was an urgent reminder of the need for increased capacity.
The President went on to call for a two-fold increase in exports, adding “But to help our companies compete, we also have to knock down barriers that stand in the way of their success. To help businesses sell more products abroad, we set a goal of doubling our exports by 2014 -– because the more we export, the more jobs we create here at home.”
Over $30 billion in trade moves across the Peace Bridge annually, associated with $227.4 billion in U.S. sales, income and federal taxes, and linked to 60,000 jobs in Western New York one million jobs across the U.S. The U.S. and Canada’s bilateral trade relationship equates to approximately $1.5 billion in goods and 300,000 people crossing the border each and every day.
Higgins added, “I often say, ‘Western New York doesn’t have a hard time getting the big projects finished, we have a hard time getting them started.’ We are so close to finally putting that shovel in the ground but having the federal government as a willing and active partner in getting us to that greatly needed, long-awaited moment is critical for the economy of Western New York and the entire nation.”
Congressman Higgins sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security Secretary and Department of Transportation Secretary urging expedience on the Peace Bridge expansion project:
January 26, 2011
The Honorable Janet Napolitano The Honorable Ray LaHood
Department of Homeland Security Department of Transportation
3801 Nebraska Avenue NW 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20393 Washington, DC 20590
Re: The Peace Bridge Expansion Project
Dear Secretary Napolitano and Secretary LaHood:
President Obama’s State of the Union address established very clear themes and goals for our country and the federal government. His remarks on increasing exports, repairing and modernizing our infrastructure, and finding new and creative ways to finance infrastructure all reiterated in my mind the importance of the Peace Bridge Expansion Project. I know you share the President’s goals, and that is why I encourage you today to use all the tools you possess to make sure that in 2011, the environmental process on the Peace Bridge can finally come to a successful conclusion, allowing construction to commence.
The President has made a clear commitment to establishing a path to doubling American exports because it will create jobs and increase economic activity. The Peace Bridge project has, and should be seen to have, an important role in achieving that goal. Already the third busiest Northern Border crossing with Canada, our country’s largest trading partner, more than $30 billion in trade moves across the Peace Bridge every year, and that trade is linked to $227.4 billion in economic generation at companies that do business in our country, supporting 1 million jobs. Businesses in Western New York and around the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions benefit from this trade linkage. If we are to actually achieve the ambitious goals set forth by the President, we need to increase capacity at the Peace Bridge to increase economic opportunity and create jobs.
Another theme in the President’s speech was the importance of rebuilding our infrastructure to increase American economic productivity. The Peace Bridge was constructed with three lanes. On many days, functional traffic movement is decreased to one lane because of the high volume of freight crossing the border. The Peace Bridge expansion project would add four lanes at this crossing, availing people to move across the border with considerable ease. Buffalo and Western New York have long struggled to turn around our economy even though the region is situated next to the second fastest growing region in North America, southern Ontario. In order to unlock the untapped economic potential of this mega-region, and to inject new economic life into Buffalo and Western New York, this new infrastructure project is essential.
The Peace Bridge expansion project would also be an excellent candidate for the unique competitively-based financing mechanisms the President mentioned to fund new infrastructure projects. Unlike many infrastructure projects, the Peace Bridge has several built-in revenue sources – tolls and duty free shops – that decrease the barriers to entry in attracting private investment. In addition, the return on investment should be obvious given significant economic investment opportunities that will logically be unlocked by a capacity expansion. Given the strategic economic return of strong projects like the Peace Bridge, we should be working at full speed in finding ways to finance them.
Given all this promise and all this potential, we know that the hurdles toward getting to construction lie within your agencies. We know the government review process is arduous and deliberative, and that the NEPA process has considerable merit, but if your agencies cannot work collaboratively to take accountability for a project that is clearly within the strong economic interest, not just for Buffalo and Western New York, but for the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions of our country, the results could be devastating in the economic opportunities lost. I urge you to assert leadership roles in this process so that we can finally make this project a reality this year.
I look forward to working with you on this project. Thank you for the work that you do.
Member of Congress