Believe it or not, progress has been made on the Peace Bridge. Historic progress that could move truck traffic along and go a long way toward alleviating many problems.
After years of talk comes news that some U.S.-bound cargo will be inspected on the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge starting Feb. 24. The kickoff begins a six-month pilot project that could result in the eventual move of all initial truck inspections to the Fort Erie side of the bridge.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., took the lead in persuading the Department of Homeland Security to select Fort Erie for one of two pilot projects, so it was appropriate that he announced the move. He also added an amendment to the Senate-passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in June 2013 that will make the preclearance pilot programs permanent if deemed successful. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, also pushed for the Department of Homeland Security to include the Peace Bridge in the pilot project.
As Schumer said, this could herald a new era at the Peace Bridge, an era in which idling truck traffic on the bridge or in Buffalo would be greatly reduced. Getting to this point wasn’t easy. It also required agreement by the Canadian government to allow gun-toting U.S. customs agents on its side of the border, which at one point seemed to be a deal-breaker.
If the program becomes permanent, truck congestion on the bridge should be reduced because trucks often back up as they wait to approach the seven customs inspection booths in Buffalo.
Moreover, speeding truck traffic across the bridge will result in less noise and cleaner air for residents of the neighborhood near the bridge. That could ease residents’ concerns over asthma and other respiratory problems.
However, that seems unlikely after the story last month in The News that in 2012 high asthma rates prompted several federal agencies to briefly consider moving all the truck traffic off the Peace Bridge and to the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge. The U.S. General Services Administration led that effort, even while some within the agency weren’t aware of it. An official from New York summarily squelched the effort, and now neighborhood activists and environmentalists are understandably up in arms.
The solution, though, is not to move the pollution to another place but to reduce it. The pre-inspection pilot project is a step in that direction, along with the federal budget agreement that increased funding for Customs and Border Protection by $220 million. More than half that money will go toward hiring and training 2,000 new border agents, and some of them will be available to staff more inspection booths for vehicles coming into the United States.
It’s been a long road, but in the end it is one that may get a little less congested.