Deadlines aside, border traffic still an issue for 2010

Published on Thu, Feb 28, 2008 by Meg Olson

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Deadlines aside, border traffic still an issue for 2010

By Meg Olson

By 2010, the Peace Arch border facility may be fully functional but that doesn’t mean four- to five-hour waits for cross-border motorists are out of the picture.

“I see 10 lanes in each direction, people whipping through with RFID cards, shorter lines,” was the picture U.S. Consul General Lewis Lukens painted at a recent meeting focusing on changes at the border.

“I also see four to five hour waits during the 2010 Olympics,” added Matt Morrison from the Pacific Northwest Economic Region, a regional planning organization set up by statute in border states and provinces.

The International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC) annual general meeting held in Bellingham February 21 brought together over 100 people and a dozen groups or agencies to talk about making a changing border work for everyone.

Keynote speaker U.S. Representative Rick Larsen said he was frustrated by a General Services Administration announcement the new Peace Arch facility would be “operational and fully functional” in time for the games but not “complete” until May 2010. “The Olympics are in two years and our border crossings will be tested like never before and we must be prepared,” he said.

Senior managers from U.S. and Canadian border agencies discussed infrastructure and technology changes to accommodate growing volumes other than from the Olympics; new facilities at Peace Arch and Douglas, computerized truck manifests, and identification cards equipped with radio frequency identification (RFID).

“This will really improve efficiency at the border,” said Amanda Bibler, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) assistant director of border security and facilitation for the Seattle district. Bibler said equipment to read RFID cards, such as the new Washington enhanced drivers license would be installed at the top 39 ports of entry, which includes all Whatcom County ports of entry.

Coupled with a new computer interface in primary lanes this will allow inspectors to receive advanced information about travelers.

“It will speed up inspections and speed up traffic,” she said. New technology was also speeding up commercial traffic, according to assistant Blaine port director Jay Brandt. “It’s so much easier for us to process if we know who’s coming,” he said, describing the electronic manifest program, and pre-clearance programs for trucks, drivers and facilities. “We can make much faster decisions right from the primary booth.”

With trade increasing throughout North America, Whatcom Council of Governments planning director Gordon Rogers asked how border agencies planned to handle a projected doubling of freight traffic
in the next 10 or 15 years. “The only way we could manage a doubling would be to have as much advance information as possible,” said Jan Brock, from the CBSA. That reality was driving many of the changes to border technology, infrastructure and programs, she said.

David Andersson, president of the Pacific Corridor Enterprise Council (PACE), argued for more local control when new programs and technologies are implemented. “This is our border. This border is in our community,” Andersson said.

Andersson said centralization in Vermont of the U.S. NEXUS application
review and appeals process meant program participants who were rejected on renewal found they lacked a “meaningful process” to appeal the decision.

“NEXUS worked really well with local management,” he said. “Problems could be discussed and solved locally.”

CBP assistant port director James Rector said a newly appointed ombudsman in the Vermont office was lending consistency to the process, and creating the opportunity for local participation. “We may have some input but it’s still a headquarters decision,” he said.

CBSA port director Kim Scoville said the Canadians would be following suit with centralized NEXUS processing.

Andersson’s call for more local control got some support from U.S. attorney general Michael Mukasey the following day.

During a February 22 briefing Mukasey said that following a trip to the southern border he concluded that “one size does not fit all ... that flexibility is key. That’s true for two reasons. First, each border sector, and each border district, has its own challenges, its own issues, and its own opportunities based on terrain, traffic flow, crime patterns, and available resources. What may work in one sector or district doesn’t necessarily work in another.”

In closing the IMTC meeting Larsen also highlighted the need for local solutions. “When we talk about border security it’s a different conversation than you might have in El Paso,” he said.