Border policy institute to study border truck usage

Published on Wed, Jul 22, 2009
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Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute (BPRI) is conducting research this summer on the truck usage of the FAST lanes at Whatcom County’s border crossings to find why the percentage of trucks using these lanes is dramatically lower here than at border crossings at Detroit, Mich., and Buffalo, N.Y.

With the cooperation of customs agencies, WWU students are collecting information about each truck, its destination, manifest, and usage (or not) of the FAST system – a “trusted shipper” program designed to speed transport across the border of goods and freight –  according to David Davidson, associate director of the BPRI.
“About 40 percent of the trucks using the Detroit crossing use the FAST system; that drops down to about 25 percent at Buffalo, but those are significantly higher than the 3 percent that use the Whatcom County crossings now,” said Davidson.

One aspect to the local crossings as opposed to the Detroit crossing is that Detroit’s FAST users are huge companies making multiple trips per day to that city’s auto plants; crossing data gathered thus far by the BPRI shows that most of the truck traffic across the local crossings is done by small, independent operators making their way to and from the Seattle-Vancouver, B.C. route.

“It just doesn’t make as much fiscal sense for these companies to join FAST as opposed to the Detroit-area companies; they have less to gain and can only make one round-trip per day regardless,” said Davidson.

Washington recently made a $50 million investment to put the northbound FAST lane in place at state Route 543; if it is being underutilized, Davidson is hoping the research done by his team of BPRI staff and a cadre of WWU student researchers will shed light on how the lane might be best utilized to improve traffic flow across the border.
Possible new models for the underutilized FAST lane include opening it up to general traffic or implementing a variable-congestion toll that would allow vehicle owners to pay a sliding-scale fee to use the “express lane” depending on the wait times for the other lanes.

“One thing that doesn’t look likely would be to change the rules of the FAST system to encourage more participation, since both countries have to agree on the rules, which is never easy,” said Davidson. “It will be much easier for one side or the other to decide how it wants to use the lanes it has, rather than change all the rules governing the system.”

For more information, contact Davidson at 360/650-2642.