Canadian lane changes cause delays on U.S. side

Published on Wed, Apr 4, 2012 by Jeremy Schwartz

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Border crossing improvements on the Canadian side have frazzled more than a few nerves south of the border as Canadian drivers heading home cause backups on the truck route.

For the past month or so, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) has been improving the Canadian side of the northbound lanes of the Pacific Highway truck route. Once completed, the crossing will have more inspection booths, one NEXUS lane, two bus lanes and 10 regular traffic lanes.

The CBSA wants to mirror the northbound capacity of the Peace Arch crossing, but the construction means significant traffic revisions until the estimated finish date: the second-to-last weekend in May, or Victoria Day weekend for Canadians.

“They are trying like heck to get that done, but in the meantime they have two lanes open,” Blaine police chief Mike Haslip said at a recent Blaine City Council meeting.

To respond to the increased traffic backups in the area, Haslip has posted more Blaine police officers at the crossing at the heaviest traffic times. The additional officers have concentrated their efforts at the truck route’s intersection with D Street, to make sure drivers headed northbound heed the rules of the road.

But more police officers on hand at busy traffic times often means an increase in overtime pay, and Haslip said he has a finite amount of resources to meet those costs. Only U.S. Customs and Border Protection provides financial support for additional overtime hours, and Haslip said the extra traffic control will continue as long as that money is available.

“As long as we have funding from our federal partners, we’ll continue to do that,” Haslip said. “It won’t be every weekend, I wish that it was, but we don’t have enough bodies or resources.”

While Haslip has fielded complaints from Blaine residents, the traffic backups seem to be affecting the northbound motorists the most. Blaine police have become involved when some impatient drivers attempt to jump the line.

“They get very creative, and then they get testy with one another,” Haslip said. “When folks cut corners or take advantage of each other, things get serious.”

Most of the problems have occurred with Canadian motorists, who tend to cross the border at about the same time every day. Haslip said his officers have responded to threats of assault and outright fights between motorists.

In an attempt to remedy this, Haslip is encouraging frequent border crossers to apply for a NEXUS pass, which should dramatically reduce wait times at the border.

Failing that, Haslip suggested drivers watch the variable message signs on I-5 approaching the border to gauge how delayed traffic might be. But above all, Haslip offered one simple solution: stay patient.

“The most effective resource we have in keeping traffic moving safely are the motorists themselves.” Haslip said. “Travelers who obey the rules of the road, stay patient and do not try to take advantage of other drivers help the process immensely.”