U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., has been leading the fight to improve international bridge traffic flow and U.S. Customs staffing levels in Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
"Anyone who has driven across the Peace Bridge during peak times knows this is a problem that has reached outrageous proportions," Schumer said. "Cars and trucks are just sitting on the Peace Bridge going nowhere for hours, and when that happens, everyone suffers -- drivers, businesses and tourists. The bottom line is that Customs needs to better staff the crossing and make sure that its planning accounts for when traffic reaches its peak."
On Monday, speaking at the Peace Bridge, he urged Customs to increase staffing levels and make better use of existing staff to meet peak traffic demands. He said that Customs officials were guilty of poor planning by not strategically deploying staff to accommodate peak hours.
Data obtained by Schumer reveals the problems:
On July 1 (Canada Day) only two out of 12 inspection booths were staffed during the morning rush hour. Backups began that day as early as 5:30 a.m. and didn't clear up until well after noon. Morning commuters crossing the Peace Bridge have waited up to two hours on normal weekdays.
On July 6 (the first work day after the holiday weekend) records indicate that at 6:30 a.m., only two auto lanes were staffed, and severe backups began as early as 6:40 a.m. By 8:30 a.m., even though by that time 11 booths were staffed, the backups had built up over the bridge, past the Canadian Customs plaza and beyond the Thompson Road exit on the QEW. The traffic jam didn't start to clear up until almost 11 a.m.
According to the Peace Bridge Authority, the average processing time for autos should be 38 seconds. Between July 1 and 6 this year, the average auto processing time was 76 seconds and in some occasions primary processing took up to 190 seconds.
In a letter to Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner, Schumer wrote: "The delays, backups and waiting times have become more than just an inconvenience -- it is now interfering with local commerce and safety. I urge Customs to increase staffing during peak commuter traffic hours as soon as possible."
Earlier this month Schumer convened a meeting in Washington with top Homeland Security officials to discuss possible solutions for shared border management at the area bridges that would improve the flow of traffic.