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Higgins & Collins advance plan for new US plaza at Peace Bridge

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Mon, Feb 26th 2018 02:50 pm
New technology allows for equipment, not staff to shift from Buffalo to Fort Erie
Plan would cut wait times, enhance security, cut air pollution
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (PBA) are jointly pursuing new technologies that will allow for the long-stalled redevelopment of the U.S. Peace Bridge plaza to advance. In light of this, Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY-26) and Congressman Chris Collins (R-NY-27) today called on the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) to put the planning and development of the new U.S. plaza on the "front burner." This would include 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," Higgins said. "These improvements will establish a gateway to the United States, which is open, orderly and attractive, with new landscaping, decorative lighting (and) smoother traffic flow."
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, 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 electronic manifests from shippers. In late 2016, CBP and PBA jointly instituted their pre-arrival readiness evaluation program (PARE), 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 would 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 31/2 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 $50 million (Canadian), 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 two politicians said 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 US Plaza
•Reduced Wait Times. According to an independent report prepared for U.S. CBP in 2015 following the completion of the phase two pilot project at the Peace Bridge, implementation of pre-clearance procedures would cut wait times in half from an average of seven minutes, currently, to just 31/2 minutes. This proposal would achieve 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, while 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 U.S., 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 would be the most secure U.S. border crossing.

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