U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA) are jointly pursuing new technologies, which will allow for the long-stalled redevelopment of the U.S. Peace Bridge plaza to advance. In light of this, Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) and Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) today called on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) [hyperlink to letter] to put the planning and development of the new U.S. plaza on the “front burner,” with attention from top staff who are empowered to make decisions and resolve issues as the project goes through the legally-required environmental review process and lease negotiations.
“The current U.S. plaza is a disgrace and an embarrassment,” said Congressman Higgins. “These improvements will establish a gateway to the United States which is open, orderly and attractive, with new landscaping, decorative lighting smoother traffic flow.”
Congressman Collins said, “We must prioritize the strong economic partnership between the U.S. and Canada, which means finding workable solutions to delays at the Peace Bridge. Investing in these new technologies will speed up the flow of traffic so that goods and resources can flow more efficiently between our two nations. We can do better, which is why I have and will continue to be a staunch supporter of common-sense reforms that will fix unnecessary delays at the border.”
CBP and PBA to Institute New Technology
CBP conducted a pilot study of pre-inspection in Fort Erie from February 2014 through January 2015. Among the findings of this study was that wait times could be reduced by mandating cashless transactions and mandating electronic manifests from shippers. In late 2016, CBP and PBA jointly instituted their Pre-Arrival Readiness Evaluation (PARE) program, which instituted these two reforms by having trucks bound for the U.S. check in with PBA staff in Fort Erie to make sure their fees and manifests were in order before crossing the bridge. Building on this success, PBA and CBP are advancing a second phase of the PARE program, which would:
- Shift X-Rays for U.S.-bound trucks from Buffalo to Fort Erie.
- Shift equipment to detect radioactive cargo from Buffalo to Fort Erie
- Install Facial recognition cameras in Fort Erie.
These three reforms will achieve the goals of previously-proposed iterations of Shared Border Management without placing U.S. officers in Fort Erie and therefore not requiring an international treaty or an amendment to the Canadian Constitution. Pre-clearance had proposed to cut average wait times from 7 minutes to 3½ minutes and virtually eliminate waits over 15 minutes.
Building a New U.S. Plaza
With this equipment shifted from the U.S. plaza to the Canadian plaza, and with greater certainty about the space and configuration requirements of the U.S. plaza because of the resolution of questions about what form Shared Border Management would take, the PBA and the U.S. Government can finally pursue a new U.S. plaza. A new Canadian plaza on the Fort Erie side of the Peace Bridge opened in 2007, built at a cost of $C50 million with expenses split between the Government of Canada and the PBA. Further, the bridge itself is being re-decked currently at a cost of $80 million and the U.S. approaches were recently improved and rebuilt at a cost of $57 million. Despite these improvements, the U.S. plaza remains an unwelcoming maze of antiquated booths and crisscrossing traffic.
The Bridge Authority currently has $50 million available for capital improvements and the U.S. federal government is prioritizing border infrastructure, advancing the prospects of a new, iconic American gateway.
Benefits of a New U.S. Plaza
- Reduced Wait Times. According to an independent report prepared for U.S. CBP in 2015 following the completion of the Phase II pilot project at the Peace Bridge, implementation of pre-clearance procedures would cut wait times in half from an average of 7 minutes currently, to just 3 ½ minutes. This proposal achieves the goals of pre-clearance without requiring new treaties or constitutional amendments.
- Economic Opportunity. The economies of Western New York and Southern Ontario are deeply interconnected. Western New York cultural institutions, sports teams, retail outlets and other businesses rely on Canadian consumers to thrive. The Peace Bridge is the second busiest crossing between the U.S. and Canada with more than 5.3 million car, truck and bus crossings in 2017. Construction of a new U.S. plaza at the Peace Bridge would support local construction jobs in the short term and improving the flow of traffic across the bridge would support economic and job growth in Western New York for years to come.
- Environmental Improvements. A new American plaza at the Peace Bridge would reduce idling times that lead to pollution as well as providing a visually and functionally improved gateway to the United States, through Western New York, featuring new landscaping, lighting and public art.
- Enhanced Security. Officers can spend less time on routine, legitimate commerce and more time on law enforcement. Upon implementation, the Peace Bridge will be the most secure U.S. border crossing.