The Senate and Assembly overwhelmingly approved the measure as Gov. Andrew Cuomo continued hardball negotiations with Canadian officials.
Cuomo and many western New York lawmakers are disappointed with the Peace Bridge Authority over what they see as delays in improvements to the entry plaza on the New York side of the bridge.
"The authority has not done its job, particularly on the U.S. side of the border," said Sen. George Maziarz, a western New York Republican. "Hopefully this will stimulate movement on some appropriate plaza on the U.S. side."
The measure passed 61-0 in the Senate. The Assembly passed the bill 83-44 earlier on Wednesday.Assemblyman Sean Ryan says the legislation would force the PBA to function like any other state authority, by mandating that the PBA must have outstanding bonds to continue its existence.
“During the last twenty years, the Fort Erie plaza was dramatically expanded and re-built, and the Canadian Customs facilities were renovated and expanded. During those same twenty years, the situation in Buffalo has worsened. Millions of dollars have been wasted, and our plaza remains cramped, impossibly difficult to navigate and looks like a truck stop. The surrounding neighborhood has been destabilized, and a nursing home was run out of business.
The legislation passed today will return the Public Bridge Authority to the same status as any other authority in New York State. The PBA was never designed to exist indefinitely." he said.
The Peace Bridge Authority had no comment Wednesday, but issued a letter last week.
"The PBA has consistently been, and remains, dedicated to continuing to make improvements on the U.S. plaza to improve safety, security, traffic flow and the environment for the benefit of the surrounding community and Western New York," said General Manager Ron Rienas. "The PBA also remains committed to working with New York State and Gov. Cuomo to make these improvements happen."
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi said the governor will review the legislation. Cuomo had no comment Wednesday, but in an appearance at the University of Buffalo before the vote, he spoke passionately- even sarcastically- about the lack of progress on U.S. based bridge projects.
He scoffed at the Canadian argument that the legislation has put a cloud of uncertainty over any bridge projects, placing g funding in jeopardy.
"Do I have a concern that we could somehow hurt the phenomenal rate of progress we've been making at the Peace Bridge? No." Cuomo said
Since the original legislation was passed in 1933, the life of the authority has been extended numerous times. This legislation takes away the arbitrary date of 2020 as an end date for the PBA.
"If the authority is able to issue new bonds, then it will continue to exist like any other authority. If not, then it is clear that dysfunction and gridlock is still happening, and a new management structure should be put into place, so that vital projects can be completed, " Ryan says .
"Our economy and the health of west side residents depend on getting these important projects accomplished. We can only do that if the gridlock ends,” says Ryan.
Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, a Kingston Democrat, derided the effort and the overheated dispute over the Peace Bridge as "declaring war on Canada."
Top administration officials met with Canadian officials this week in Albany in a closed-door session.
The Peace Bridge Authority is a 10-member board with representatives from New York and Canada. If enacted, the law could create separate control on each side of the bridge involving visitor facilities, lucrative retail space and policies governing how trucks are inspected and move across the bridge.
Currently, both sides must agree to any actions.