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Canadians have too much at stake to ignore backups at the border bridges

It’s been said so often by so many people that it is practically the stuff of dreams: Smooth border crossings are necessary for the economic vitality of both the United States and Canada. But for motorists crossing into Fort Erie, Queenston or Niagara Falls, Ont., the word this summer is nightmare.

Understaffed inspection booths going into Canada are causing long delays, sometimes of more than an hour. It’s happening up and down the Niagara Frontier, at all three bridges that are open to the general driving public. A fourth, the Whirlpool Bridge in Niagara Falls, is for Nexus subscribers only.

This causes obvious problems that should have Canadian businesses up in arms, including those in the tourist-dependent communities of Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake. Unpredictable wait times at the border will inevitably decrease the appetite for making the crossing, especially those that might be made on the spur of the moment.

But it’s not just a problem for Canadians. Many businesses in Western New York depend upon Canadian traffic and those people will also be disincentivized from making the trip if they worry about prolonged delays at the border on the way home. This could have an impact here on shopping malls, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Shea’s Performing Arts Center, the Bills, Sabres and others.

The delays are worse today than last year, said Ron Rienas, the Peace Bridge Authority’s president and general manager. The same holds true for the Niagara Falls and Lewiston bridges, managed by the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

It’s a bad situation that involves the border agents’ union contract, but in the end it’s a management problem. The contract allows the agents two weeks off in the summer as well as unpaid family leave. Leaders of the Peace Bridge Authority, which has no control over staffing issues at either end of the bridge, say managers at Canada’s Border Services Agency haven’t had the necessary personnel to plug the holes.

That’s the root of the problem, but it’s not a solution, and we hope both members of the Canadian Parliament and American officials are making that point to the office of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer might profitably be among them, since he was adept at increasing staffing at the American inspections booths, where delays had also once been intolerable.

The bottom line is that this is an entirely predictable bottleneck, one for which managers and government officials must plan. It’s insufficient to blame it on the union contract and then wash your hands of it.

A fundamental requirement of our shared border is that crossing is made as easy and straightforward as diligence allows. That’s not happening when trips in one direction can require more than an hour’s delay.

It needs to be fixed. These problems feed on themselves and people on both sides of the border have a stake in ensuring that doesn’t happen.

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