Federal grant funds planning to improve border wait time estimates


The Whatcom Council of Governments (WCOG) will receive a $458,000 federal grant to plan an updated communications system that could improve wait time estimates for travelers crossing both ways at the U.S./Canada border. 

The project’s planning phase will evaluate technology to replace the communications system at the Peace Arch, Pacific Highway, Lynden and Sumas ports of entry, according to a March 23 announcement from U.S. senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Patty Murray (D-WA). The current system uses 20-year-old technology that miscounts vehicles and has fixed cameras that don’t move when the lanes are changed.

“People who rely on border wait times to determine which port of entry they’re going to cross through need to believe the wait times advertised are real,” said Melissa Fanucci, the project’s principal planner for WCOG. She added that an updated system could help inspection agencies better staff facilities as well as improve border data analysis for researchers. 

WCOG, the project’s lead agency, and other project proponents are considering sensor-based technology that would give travelers actual wait times for both passenger and commercial vehicles traveling both ways through the U.S./Canada border. Current technology doesn’t provide wait times for commercial vehicles, according to WCOG.

The grant will also look at potentially adding an anti-idling system for northbound traffic entering the Peace Arch border crossing, similar to the anti-idling systems in place for southbound traffic entering the U.S. Fanucci said the installation of an anti-idling system needs to be studied more because of the Peace Arch border crossing’s location to the I-5 on-ramp.

WCOG will work with the Washington State Department of Transportation and B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which operate the communications systems for both countries. The planning phase is expected to take one year and then WCOG will apply for implementation funding.

“We’re going to come up with the plan for the border wait time system and then we’ll apply for the stage two grant, which will hopefully open in November of this year,” Fanucci said. “If we get that, we can implement the project the following year.”

The new communications system could be ready in 2025, according to the senators’ announcement. 

The grant was funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) discretionary grant program that was established under the Biden-Harris Infrastructure Law. The law is providing $100 million annually to the SMART program for local and state governments to improve transportation through advance technologies and systems. 

Over 4.7 million passenger vehicles and 500,000 commercial trucks use the ports of entry in Whatcom County annually, Cantwell said in the release. 


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