Canadian Consulting Engineer

Congestion at Fort Erie

January 1, 2001
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

Ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1991, the volume of truck traffic between Canada and the U.S. has been increasing at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, however, "rapid" is n...

Ever since the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 1991, the volume of truck traffic between Canada and the U.S. has been increasing at a rapid pace. Unfortunately, however, “rapid” is not the word to describe how trucks were making the crossing by the Peace Bridge over the Niagara River between Fort Erie, Ontario and Buffalo, New York. Long queues of U.S.-bound haulers tailing back onto the Queen Elizabeth Way on the Canadian side of the border became a regular occurrence. With many companies running just-in-time delivery operations, these delays cost them thousands of dollars in waiting goods. The 1,768-metre long bridge, which is the second busiest U.S.-Canada crossing, carries 6,000 trucks a day and about $36 billion in trade.

For several years a long and bitter battle has been waged over what to do about expanding the capacity of the bridge, which is 73 years old. In Buffalo, citizen groups and some politicians favour building a new “signature” bridge that they originally planned to land north of the existing one on the U.S. side. They want a dramatic entry point to their city, and already have promoted a design for it by Bruno Freschi (a Buffalo University architecture professor and member of the Order of Canada) and engineer T.Y. Lin. However, the Peace Bridge Authority (the bridge is self-funding, financed by tolls and run by a joint U.S.-Canadian board) wants to build a three-lane steel structure alongside the original bridge. It believes a twin-span will cause the least traffic disruption.

The debate is more complex, however, and has many strands. On the Buffalo side, opponents of the Peace Bridge Authority’s plans are concerned that a new, expanded, U.S. plaza would be detrimental to a local park designed by the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. They want to dismantle the old bridge, and, most vociferously of all, complain that the Bridge Authority has not done proper environmental reviews. The Bridge Authority argues that a twin-span scheme saves the existing bridge as a historic landmark, and saves $30 million in costs to pull it down.

Last spring a $1 million bi-national independent review by engineers Buckland & Taylor, Ammann & Whitney, Louis Berger and Parson Brinckerhoff concluded that the twin-span was the most viable alternative. However, Buffalo’s Public Consensus Review Panel refused to accept the finding, took the issue to court and obtained a judge’s ruling that the companion span cannot proceed until the Bridge Authority has done a comprehensive environmental impact study. The study has to look at the bridge and the plaza as a single entity.

The Bridge Authority responded to the judge’s ruling in November, by announcing it was launching a new “bi-national integrated environmental process.” This new initiative will involve both the towns of Buffalo and Fort Erie, and the Bridge Authority hopes finally to find a consensus on what should be done.- BL


Consulting engineers: McCormick Rankin Corporation

While the Peace Bridge Authority struggles to break the deadlock over the bridge’s expansion, it has managed to cut down on some of the truck delays by building a new truck processing complex on the Canadian side. The Commercial Vehicle Processing Centre opened in November 1999 as part of a 12-hectare, $20 million site development.

Previously, many of the trucks which were entitled to pass directly into the U.S. by the “primary” line were held up by the trucks whose paperwork was not in order. The U.S. secondary inspection area accommodates only about 40 trucks, so the overflow of trucks with questionable manifests had to wait on the bridge until they could enter the customs area, holding up the rest of the traffic.

Now that the new commercial vehicle processing centre is operating, all trucks bound for the U.S. on the Queen Elizabeth Way must exit through a dedicated truck ramp just before they reach the bridgehead. Those trucks with shipments that fall in special categories such as “empties,” “line release,” “in-transit” and “pre-processed” can proceed directly across the bridge. The others are signed into the commercial vehicle processing centre’s yard on the Canadian side until an official can check their manifests. If there is a problem, the official can fax or communicate with the customs broker from the centre, and will assign the driver a bar-coded number ready to release the truck into the primary line. Since the centre started operating, the volume of trucks that have been able to go straight through has increased from 67% to almost 90%.

The Bridge Authority had begun acquiring property on the site almost a decade before. The site held an arena, courthouse, hotel and various rights of way. The new vehicle processing centre is in a converted office building. McCormick Rankin Corporation planned and engineered the entire project, including the vehicle processing centre, roadworks, ramps, parking areas, utilities etc. (everything except a new duty free shop).

While a major challenge was orchestrating the project among the needs of different public and user groups, one of the project’s most unusual engineering aspects was designing a new exit ramp onto the bridge from the Queen Elizabeth Way. This involved attaching a diamond configuration structure onto the existing concrete bridge. The engineers also designed for a massive berm and sound attention wall 10 metres high at the north and west sides of the site to lessen the impact on the adjacent residential areas.CCE

Project: Commercial Vehicle Processing Centre

Client: Buffalo/Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority

Prime consultant, traffic forecasting, civil, project management: McCormick Rankin Corp. Mississauga. Project team leaders: Ian Williams, P.Eng., Michael Chiu, P.Eng., Reno Radolli, P.Eng.

Municipal engineering: Philips Engineering

Other consultants: O’Dell Management (planning and approvals), Piraino & Raimondo (architect), RWDI (air quality), Valcoustics (sound), JEGEL (geotechnical)


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