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Higgins: Buffalo selected for pilot project aimed at reducing border wait times

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Wed, Feb 10th 2016 06:00 pm

Federal budget names Buffalo as 1 of 3 sites for new system

Congressman Brian Higgins announced Buffalo was named as one of three sites nationwide selected for an initiative aimed at decreasing wait times at U.S. border crossings.

"Our Western New York economy relies on the efficient flow of goods and people across our international border, but constrained infrastructure combined with outdated technology is choking opportunity," Higgins said. "This project, set for implementation in Buffalo this year, is yet another way for us to build efficiency and predictability at the border."

Currently, commercial vehicles crossing the border pay a U.S. Customs and Border Protection user fee. Truck operators who cross the border on a regular basis frequently purchase a transponder containing information about the vehicle and border crossing user fee payment status, to allow for expedited processing. When commercial carriers don't purchase an annual transponder, the driver is required to pay a $13.05 user fee per crossing. The collection of this user fee causes significant delays in cash collection, processing and backups on the bridge.

President Barack Obama's fiscal year 2017 budget for the Department of Homeland Security calls for implementation of an automated user fee collection system to reduce wait times for commercial vehicles. According to the DHS budget, CBP expects to provide the automated payment option this year (FY 2016) with soft launches in Buffalo, Detroit and El Paso, Texas, before nationwide implementation.

Last year, Higgins called on CBP to act on reforms designed to reduce wait times, first writing to the DHS secretary in January and continuing to press for action in the subsequent months. Higgins also supported funding to increase CBP staffing as a means to relieve congestion at Western New York border crossings.

According to information included in the DHS budget: The current manual process results in increased wait times and fuel costs for carriers and loss of work hours for CBP. For example, at the Port of Buffalo in FY 2015, approximately 1,700 work hours were spent performing cash collections on primary (each commercial truck inspection took an average of 80-90 seconds per vehicle). User fee collections for FY 2015 in the Port of Buffalo were approximately $774,000. This equates to approximately 72,000 collections (7.6 percent of commercial trucks). Preliminary analysis from an independent contractor indicates implementing an automated user fee collection solution could result in a potential 6.5 percent decrease in processing times and 5.5 percent increase in throughput in Buffalo alone.

Higgins is co-chair of the congressional northern border caucus and a member of the House Committees on foreign affairs and homeland security. Higgins' Western New York district borders Southern Ontario and includes three automobile and two rail crossings between the U.S. and Canada.

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