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Love Thy Neighbor: Bridging the border between Buffalo & Canada

It is a bridge of steel and light. Against a dark sky, five arches fitted with an LED light show in resplendent, changing colors are a celebration of the friendship between two neighboring countries. We’re talking about the Peace Bridge, a significant conduit connecting the United States, Canada and the fabulousness in both locales. Spanning 3,580 feet from abutment to abutment, the Peace Bridge consists of three lanes measuring 12 feet each with two six-foot-wide pedestrian walkways on either side. Its superstructure is riveted steel with reinforced concrete deck slabs (that work together to make a stronger structure) and latex-modified, concrete-wearing surface, which resists the penetration of oil, water and salt, and helps to prevent cracking. The Peace Bridge is the No. 3 U.S.-Canada crossing in terms of truck traffic, and the No. 1 in automobile traffic; it is also the only border crossing between the United States and another country that accepts E-ZPass. In 2013, for instance, almost six million vehicles (automobile, truck and bus) crossed the bridge, according to the statistics provided by the Peace Bridge website. Built to commemorate the century of peace between the United States and Canada following the end of the War of 1812, the Peace Bridge spans the Niagara River that separates both countries. On the U.S. side, the bridge is 12.4 miles upstream from Niagara Falls, minutes away from downtown Buffalo. In Canada the bridge connects to Fort Erie, Ontario. Enthusiastic conversations about connecting Fort Erie and Buffalo date back to at least 1851; the two communities wanted a faster means of crossing the river than ferries would allow. It wasn’t until 1919, when a group of twenty-five enterprising Canadians and Americans set up the Buffalo and Fort Erie Bridge Corporation, that the hypothetical became a reality. Together the group put up $50,000 of their own money, and then they raised another $4.5 million in bonds from locals on both sides of the river for the actual construction of the bridge. Major construction contracts were awarded to both sides: Canada’s R.B. Porter of St. Catherine’s, Buffalo’s Turner Construction and also Pennslyvania’s Bethlehem Steel Company were selected, and work began in 1925. The bridge’s completion was met with celebration, and the opening ceremony took place on August 7, 1927. The formal proceedings were attended by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII), and the Vice President of the United States, John W. Van Allen. The first vehicle to officially cross the bridge was driven by Edward J. Lupfer, the bridge project’s chief engineer. Due to the Great Depression, the Bridge Corporation was forced to seek governmental help in 1933 in order not to default on their bonds. With three separate pieces of legislation passed in Ottawa, Albany and Washington, the public-benefit Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority came into being. On Jan. 1, 2008, all duties and quantitative restrictions at the border crossing were eliminated with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico. This agreement created the world’s largest free trade area, which now links 450 million people producing $17 trillion worth of goods and services, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. With the Walden Galleria Mall just 20 minutes from the Peace Bridge, the Greater Buffalo area is a logical destination for many Canadian shoppers; other opportunities abound, including concerts, theatre, museums and sports events. Alternatively, Buffalonians craving a big city weekend getaway need only drive across the Niagara River. In recent years, the long waits involved in crossing the Peace Bridge have generated problems. Much debate over how to solve the issue has dominated public dialogue, including nixed suggestions of modifying the current bridge (by adding more lanes) or building a similar nearby supplementary bridge (near the already existing structure). This year, the first phase of a pilot program to reduce wait times has been completed with positive results: trucks are now required to undergo a pre-inspection prior to crossing. After the second phase is completed, the Peace Bridge Authority will have more information about its actual impact.

Buffalo and Toronto

Buffalo and Toronto are 99 miles apart. By car the journey is roughly an hour and 40 minutes of driving time. Megabus travels between the two cities for fewer than 50 dollars. Alternatively, the Amtrak Maple Leaf train shuttles from the Buffalo Exchange Street Station in downtown Buffalo, through the U.S. side of Niagara Falls and then on to Canada with a terminal point in Toronto; the trip takes roughly two hours. The Peace Bridge (as well as the other three crossing points from the United States to Canada) provides citizens of both countries access to historical and cultural points of interest. Toronto, as the fourth-largest city in North America (it surpassed Chicago in size in March 2013 with a population of 2,791,140, or 84,000 more than Chicago), has many amenities and cultural attractions that draw North Americans. Buffalo, on the other hand, is comparatively a much smaller city (259,384 people in 2012, or about one-tenth the size of Toronto) — but certainly full of its own charm and attractions, in addition to being a much cheaper place to live and play.

Although the relationship between Buffalo and Toronto is not free from tensions (as in these articles in Canada's National Post, the Toronto Star), there is a real benefit in keeping the ties of friendship strong. The two regions are integrated through people, jobs, economics and cultural attractions.

The Peace Bridge is a functioning symbol of connectivity. Its impact on the two countries as a whole is evident — and worth bridging any divides.

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