Traffic study finds not all ports of entry are equal

Published on Thu, Oct 4, 2007 by Tara Nelson

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Traffic study finds not all ports of entry are equal

By Tara Nelson

Is cross border traffic at all U.S./Canadian ports of entry affected by the same factors that influence traffic here? A September study by the Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) at Western Washington University (WWU) says no.

In his study “Diversity of the Ports-of-Entry Along the 49th Parallel” BPRI director David Davidson suggests that the northern border crossings experienced a sharp decrease in traffic in the wake of the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attacks, but that those declines are isolated to only a few northern border crossings.

“We went out just to see if it looks the same across the border and it doesn’t,” Davidson said. “There really are differences; there are many border communities where cross-border interactions are the same today as they were a decade ago.”

The study uses official traffic counts from 24 U.S. Customs and Border Protection ports of entry to examine traffic patterns from 1996 to 2006.
The study found that of the 24 facilities, only three – Detroit, Michigan, Calais, Maine, and Blaine’s Peace Arch border facility – experienced a sharp and sustained drop in traffic immediately following September 11, 2001.

The others – including Buffalo, New York; Champlain, New York; and Sweet Grass, Montana -- experienced little or no drop in cross-border traffic.Port Huron, Michigan, meanwhile, experienced a slight increase in cross-border traffic during the 10-year period.

Border crossings between Alaska and Canada were not included in the study.

Davidson said while the reasons for Blaine’s decreased traffic counts are not clear, he speculated it could be result of Blaine’s proximity to a major Canadian population center and geographical constraints limiting travelers’ options. This combined with even slight increases in security measures could add to increased wait times to an already congested border, which may deter some travelers.

Other possible culprits could include the then-declining strength of the Canadian dollar coupled with the relative increase in the cost of retail goods; a deep-seated anti-American sentiment within Canadians in the wake of America’s invasion of Iraq; and increases in unsightly border technology such as automated license plate readers and radiation portal monitors that are visually disturbing.

In 2003, for example, CBP installed RPMs at 18 priority ports on the U.S./Canadian border and reports that more than 80 percent of personal vehicles are screened, according to CBP’s web site.

These measures are often “visually imposing” and give drivers the impression of a “hardening” of the border, the study found. Davidson, however, said more research is needed. “I think when the traffic dies down to a point at the border we tend to say it’s because of the inspection processes and how unfriendly the inspectors are and how congested the border is,” he said. “But that may not be the case. We need to look into it more.”