Pilot project for inspecting Peace Bridge trucks in Canada declared a success

Posted on April 22nd, 2015

by Robert McCarthy, Buffalo News

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Washington officials Wednesday declared successful a Peace Bridge experiment testing the feasibility of pre-inspecting U.S.-bound trucks in Canada, paving the way for an expected major reduction in congestion at the international span.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, a longtime champion of the pre-inspection program that was required to clear a host of bureaucratic hurdles, announced on Wednesday that the six-month pilot program had passed the test of U.S. Customs and Border Protection with “flying colors.”

The approval means that once details are approved by both Washington and Ottawa, construction of as many as 12 new pre-inspection booths in Fort Erie, Ont. will reduce wait times for commercial vehicles by as much as 75 percent, and eliminate commercial wait times of more than 30 minutes.

“I’ve been pushing to bring pre-inspection to the Peace Bridge for years as a way to reduce wait times, cut down on emissions, and improve commerce, and this report commissioned by CBP demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that pre-inspection at the Peace Bridge can deliver on our shared objectives,” Schumer said. “With data to back up that the pre-inspection pilot was a resounding success, the time is now to fully implement this important program in Buffalo so that commercial back-ups can be a thing of the past.”

The development caps an effort of several years by Schumer, Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo and the Peace Bridge Authority to reduce congestion by backing the program to redirect trucks into a former parking lot on the Ontario side of the bridge for inspection by U.S. agents.

A similar pilot project in Blain, Wash. also met with favorable results.

The newest development follows a March agreement between the U.S. and Canada that allows U.S. Customs agents to perform their duties in Canada – and vice versa – under a landmark border preclearance agreement stemming from the 2011 “Beyond the Border Initiative” signed by President Obama and Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The agreement appeared to resolve Canada’s longtime reluctance to allow armed U.S. agents to work on the Canadian side of the border.

Washington officials who asked not to be identified said Customs and Border Protection Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske briefed Schumer on the results of the study earlier in the week and granted his approval, allaying lingering fears that Customs concerns eventually would derail the project.

Along with other new measures such as eliminating cash transactions and installing more efficient radiation detectors, officials now anticipate a much smoother crossing for commercial vehicles. And with fewer trucks clogging the bridge, they add, passenger vehicles also should anticipate faster crossings once the program is fully implemented.

Under the pilot project, two inspection booths on the Canadian side were dedicated to inspecting U.S.-bound traffic, Peace Bride Authority General Manager Ron Rienas explained when the program began last year.

Those two lanes featured radiation-detection equipment and all the other features of the truck inspection lanes on the American side. Trucks inspected in those lanes were then either cleared through a dedicated lane on the American side with a green light or stopped for a secondary inspection in Buffalo.

The pre-inspection pilot project was slated to cost just under $1 million, in contrast to the $35 million or so projected to build at least a dozen inspection lanes to accommodate all U.S.-bound cargo on the Canadian side.

It is not yet known when construction on the new project will begin.