Agreement on new border agents will help eliminate backups at Western New York crossings - The Buffalo News
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Agreement on new border agents will help eliminate backups at Western New York crossings

More good news on the Peace Bridge front came the other day with word of U.S. Customs and Border Protection plans that include increasing the number of agents at the border between Buffalo and Canada in the coming months.

Customs and Border Protection said the process for hiring the new officers will be complete by Sept. 30, 2015. The sooner, the better.

More agents mean fewer headaches and hassles for those trying to cross the bridge, due to an increase in efficiency. It also places a much brighter green signal for the regional cross-border economy – tourist, business person or truck driver.

The statistics made clear that new staffing was urgently required, especially at the Peace Bridge. Average wait times at Customs nearly doubled from fiscal 2012 to 2013, rising to nearly six minutes. Peak wait times were much worse, rising to 26.4 minutes from 17.9 minutes. There’s an economic cost to that, as Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, and Rep. Chris Collins, R-Clarence, both made plain. Soon it should improve.

While construction is under way this summer to improve bridge access on the American side, some U.S.-bound cargo will continue to be pre-inspected on the Canadian side of the bridge as part of a demonstration project that would result in a permanent move of that truck pre-inspection process to the larger Fort Erie Plaza.

Meanwhile, motorists can bask in the latest news from Customs and Border Protection about the additional agents.

There are no specifics on the number of new agents for the Buffalo region or where they would work, but as News Washington bureau chief Jerry Zremski reported, a source with knowledge of the situation said the region can expect about 100 new agents who will work at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo. That is in addition to those who will be assigned to the bridge in Lewiston and two others in Niagara Falls.

Elected officials, especially Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., get much of the credit for this fantastic bit of news. Schumer has been dogged. He helped secure an additional $165 million in the fiscal 2014 federal budget to fund an additional 2,000 agents nationwide. Schumer took the lead in persuading the Department of Homeland Security to select Fort Erie for one of two pilot projects for pre-inspections. He also added an amendment to the Senate-passed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill in June 2013 that will make the preclearance pilot programs permanent if deemed successful.

The Customs and Border Protection announcement last week gave the first sign where the additional staff would be assigned. The 2,000 agents will be assigned to 44 “ports,” according to the agency, across 18 states, including four in New York: Buffalo, Alexandria Bay, Champlain and the John F. Kennedy International Airport area in New York City. The agency indicated the Buffalo port includes the Peace Bridge, Rainbow Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge and Lewiston-Queenston Bridge.

The allocation will be based on need, which should mean the Peace Bridge. Higgins and Collins have been ardent advocates of extra staffing at the Peace Bridge.

As Higgins noted, the Buffalo-Canada border makes homeland security and economic activity an even greater urgency. More agents will help bring peace of mind to travelers and greater security in an on-time arrival at a business meeting or a Sabres or Bills game. Or, home.

It’s nice to have positive news about the Peace Bridge.

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