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PEACE BRIDGE TO ADD E-ZPASS, PHASE OUT TOKENS

E-ZPass, the increasingly popular prepaid toll collection system, will be accepted for Peace Bridge tolls by winter. The current token system will be phased out, and motorists will be offered a discount as an incentive to use E-ZPass.

While expansion of the bridge remains years away, officials of the Peace Bridge Authority today outlined a series of steps they are taking to speed the flow of traffic in the meantime.

The system is expected to go into effect this winter. At the same time, tolls for cars will increase to $2.50 (U.S.) from $2.25. But as an incentive, users of E-ZPass will receive a 30 percent discount, making their rate $1.75. Commercial users will receive a 10 percent discount.

While 35 Customs Canada officers are being added to the Fort Erie, Ont., side, getting additional U.S. customs and immigration inspectors remains a goal.

Since speeding up toll collections won't do much to speed the crossing if drivers are stuck in long lines at inspection booths, a number of steps have been taken to facilitate the crossing of commercial traffic, which, in turn, helps motorists.

"There is no silver bullet" to ease the complicated process involving international borders, but the authority is doing all it can to facilitate the process, according to Stephen F. Mayer, general manager of operations.

The bridge is quickly approaching its capacity, and even without inspections, those traveling in the direction allocated only one of the bridge's three lanes frequently would face delays, said Earl Rowe, general manager of corporate services.

Other innovations include:

Use of the bridge's Web site (www.peacebridge.com), which now carries images from a "Traffic Web Cam," a television camera pointed toward Canada that shows real-time traffic conditions. Additional cameras will be installed soon. That, of course, does not guarantee that traffic conditions won't have changed by the time a motorist gets to the bridge.

A fourth truck lane, which will be added in the U.S. plaza this fall.

Charging trucks based on the number of axles rather than weight. That change, which should speed traffic flow, will begin this winter.

Nexus passes, similar to the Canpass already in use for entering Canada, for frequent, low-risk U.S.-bound traffic. The passes are expected to be introduced next year in a decision by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Ongoing programs to speed the flow of commercial traffic through pre-arrival processing.

A $14.5 million project to improve the Canadian Gateway by relocating inspection booths.

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