Feds: long border waits anticipated this summer

Published on Thu, Apr 23, 2009 by Tara Nelson

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Feds: long border waits anticipated this summer

By Tara Nelson

Long border waits are likely in store this summer as crews continue construction at the Peace Arch border crossing but travelers can minimize delays by acquiring the proper identification and avoiding crossing during peak hours.

That was the message from federal and state officials Tuesday during a press conference at the Peace Arch port of entry.

The $107 million construction project will replace the aging U.S. land port of entry facility that was originally built in 1976, which officials say is “functionally obsolete.” The project will build a new I-5 bridge from exit 276 to the border to carry northbound traffic and a new 30,000-square foot secondary inspection and administrative facility.

On Tuesday, officials said the project is scheduled for completion by November 2010. Whether the facility is actually finished by then, officials say they will have at least 10 inspection lanes open in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

In the meantime, however, crews have closed four southbound lanes to divert northbound traffic, leaving only four inspection lanes open to traffic coming from Canada.

Todd Harrison, assistant regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation (DOT), said travelers can minimize their wait times by planning ahead and checking online at wsdot.wa.gov/Traffic/Border for border conditions and wait times.

“I think the key is for everyone to remember there are four border crossings,” he said.

Whether travelers have secured proper documentation in time for tighter border requirements will also help, said U.S. Consul General Phillip Chicola. “People have a choice,” Chicola said. “They can wait three or four hours or they can get a NEXUS and wait three or four minutes.”

Under the new Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, travelers entering the U.S. will be required to possess a passport or WHTI-compliant document such as a NEXUS, PASS card or enhanced driver’s license (EDL) by June 1.

Recently appointed CBP field operations director Michele James acknowledged travel this summer will not be business as usual but that she was encouraged at the 96 percent compliance rate of travelers who have already obtained WHTI-compliant documents.

“It’s going to be a tough summer, but a lot of people who didn’t have passports a few years ago now do,” she said. “I think that means we’re on the right track.”

She also said the agency is considering opening some truck lanes to passenger vehicles at the Pacific Highway and Sumas border crossings during peak hours.

Chicola added that during the construction, and especially during the World Police and Fire games in Vancouver this summer, travelers need to plan their trips north more carefully.

“In the Pacific Northwest, we have this habit of looking at the border as a sort-of speed bump,” he said. “We need to start looking at things a little differently.”