Anyone who has ever waited on the Peace Bridge for an hour or more to enter the U.S. can relate to the complaints being lodged today by Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Schumer says that the backups, long wait times and lane closures are the result of a cutback in the number of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stationed here, and he’s calling on the agency to provide enough federal agents to break the “logjam.”
A check of border wait times at around 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Peace Bridge revealed a wait time of 18 minutes for commercial vehicles with six lanes open and a wait time of one hour for passenger vehicles with eight lanes open.
The one-hour wait time was the longest for any of the 30 Canadian border ports of entry monitored by Customs and Border Protection, according to the agency’s website. Only Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge had more lanes open – 12 – for passenger vehicle inspection.
A total of 4.75 million automobiles crossed the Peace Bridge in 2012, making it the busiest border crossing for autos, according to statistics compiled by the Peace Bridge Authority. Of that 4.75 million, nearly 2.37 million autos were traveling east to enter the U.S. Those numbers are on track to be outpaced this year.
The Peace Bridge is also the third-busiest Canada-U.S. truck crossing, with more than 1.26 million commercial vehicles crossing in 2012, according to the authority.
Elected officials, including Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, have in recent years made luring Canadian shoppers and industry here a priority. Schumer, calling a reduction in border agents “counterproductive,” says long wait times to enter the U.S. hinder those efforts and hurt the local economy. Every border agent provides a $2 million boost to a local economy and 33 new jobs, Schumer said, citing Customs & Border Protection data.
He is expected to address the issue this afternoon at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fontana Boathouse on the U.S. side of the Niagara River with Dottie Gallagher-Cohen, president of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, and Robert Gioia, president of the John R. Oishei Foundation, as well as other local business representatives.
The Partnership’s 2014 Regional Agenda issued last week supports improvements to the cargo pre-inspection program at the Peace Bridge and seeks “adequate staffing to make the program permanent” from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The agenda also includes long-discussed improvements of the bridge’s plaza.
Understaffing at the Peace Bridge may jeopardize progress brought about by the cargo pre-inspection program, according to Schumer.