A pilot program aimed at alleviating truck-traffic problems at the Peace Bridge has passed its first hurdle.
But the initial test was at a land border crossing in the Pacific Northwest.
A six-month pilot program that allowed U.S. customs officers stationed in Canada to pre-inspect trucks entering the United States has ended, and the concept has been deemed “feasible” by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
The test – conducted at the Pacific Highway land crossing between Blaine, Wash., and Surry, B.C. – examined the feasibility of joint procedures and technologies that could be introduced at other crossings.
Satisfactory completion of the test opens the door for the more complex 12-month test in Fort Erie – involving a river crossing as opposed to a land crossing – to begin this month. The Washington project used advanced technologies to access additional databases to reduce truck wait times during inspection.
If the Fort Erie test is successful, it could mean the number of commercial inspection booths will increase from seven currently on the U.S. side to 12 on the Canadian side.
“The success of phase one provides evidence that through this coordinated, bi-national partnership we can more efficiently move people and vehicles across our shared border,” Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said in a statement.
“We look forward to the beginning of this process at the Peace Bridge and the significant value it will bring to the interconnected economies of our country generally and the Western New York region specifically.”
The Washington test was part of the two countries’ “Beyond the Border” agreement. It calls for a better coordinated effort at border crossings to streamline traffic and the flow of goods. It also envisions a treaty, addressing such issues as officer powers and immunity, for future land, sea and air crossings.
The Peace Bridge is the No. 3 U.S.-Canada crossing in terms of truck traffic, behind Michigan’s Ambassador and Blue Water bridges. It is No. 1 in automobile traffic.
Higgins, in a February 2012 House committee hearing, pushed for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to include the Peace Bridge in the pilot project.
The project’s second phase in Fort Erie is expected to “test the ability of the pre-inspection process to reduce wait times and border congestion,” according to Customs and Border Protection.
“Now that the Blaine pre-inspection pilot program is complete after the expected six months, January marks the start of the Peace Bridge pilot. After years of hard work, I look forward to seeing this commercial pre-inspection program get out of the gate in Western New York,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
He played the lead role in convincing Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to change her mind and select Fort Erie for one of the two pilot projects.
Schumer also succeeded in adding an amendment to the Senate-passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in June 2013, which made the pre-clearance pilot programs permanent if deemed successful.
A key hang-up in the past – whether Canada would allow U.S. customs officers to carry guns – is no longer an issue now that Canadians are also armed.
Ron Rienas, the Peace Bridge Authority’s general manager, said the yearlong pilot project could be shortened if results go well, and he’s optimistic about its prospects.