Almost weekly now, it seems there is a positive new development associated with the long-delayed project at the Peace Bridge and Customs plaza. Following up on the demolition of vacant and decrepit properties on Busti Avenue and the plan to restore much of Front Park comes a decision that will allow pre-inspection of trucks in Fort Erie, Ont.
With that development, congestion at the crossing should be significantly reduced, potentially avoiding the need to build additional inspection booths on the U.S. side of the border.
This is a huge advance, even if it is less than the full “shared border management” once envisioned. That would have allowed secondary inspections also to be handled on the Canadian side of the bridge. As it is, a new secondary inspection facility will still have to be built in Buffalo to handle the roughly 10 percent of truck traffic requiring additional attention.
The new proposal could see the construction of new inspection lanes in Fort Erie, where the Peace Bridge Authority has more elbow room on 70 acres of land. That will speed both truck traffic and cars, as well, since they could avoid intermingling. Faster inspections are expected to translate to less pollution from exhaust fumes, which is a significant problem to residents near the U.S. Customs plaza.
The agreement between the United States and Canada is being approached as an experiment. Two border crossings – first in Blaine, Wash., then here – will test the efficiency of handling inspections of U.S.-bound cargo in Canada.
The West Coast experiment is due to begin this year. Six months after that, some of the cargo that is now inspected in Buffalo will be examined by U.S. agents working in Canada. If it works well, preliminary inspections of all truck traffic could move to Fort Erie in 2015.
Some version of this concept has been discussed for years, but always fell apart over the issue of U.S. Customs inspectors carrying guns in Canada. The Canadian government previously refused to allow that to occur, but this time, it agreed to pursue legislation that would allow U.S. agents to carry their weapons. That was a breakthrough. Buffalo residents have their federal delegation and the Canadian government to thank for that.
None of this gets a new bridge built, of course, which was at one time the main point of this exercise. But it all works to Buffalo’s advantage and to that of the West Side neighbors who deal with the reality of the second-busiest border crossing on our northern frontier.
Although many remain dissatisfied, the demolition of the houses on Busti Avenue removed an eyesore and should provide a buffer, the reconfiguration of Front Park moves traffic away from residences and, finally, the movement of truck inspections to Canada should notably diminish the problems caused by exhaust. It’s been a good few weeks.