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Backups at three bridges irk Canadians ; Fans streaming across to World Juniors hope that steps can be taken to improve traffic flow

Canadians rushing the border to watch their beloved Team Canada at HSBC Arena caused a logjam at all three international bridges Tuesday, which stirred a few frustrated pleas to streamline the crossing for the duration of the World Junior Hockey Championship.

No matter what bridge -- the Peace, Rainbow or Lewiston-Queenston -- Canadians said that it took at least two hours to cross the border into the United States for Canada's late-afternoon game against the Czech Republic.

"We need to figure out today how we can make this situation better," said Chris Ecklund, a Hamilton businessman and philanthropist, who called The Buffalo News while stuck in a 2 1/2 -hour wait to cross the Peace Bridge. "It's a total turnoff for a lot of people, who are just going to throw their hands up and say, 'Forget it.' "

However, hockey fans shouldn't count on any change at the bridges and instead consider the advice of U.S. Customs & Border Protection: Leave yourself plenty of time to cross.

"We are processing the orderly flow of legitimate traffic as quickly as possible," U.S. Customs & Border Protection Chief Kevin A. Corsaro said Tuesday.

"However," Corsaro said, "our primary law enforcement mission is to protect the country and secure our borders. That mission -- regardless of wait time -- will not be compromised."

Corsaro acknowledged the long backups at the border Tuesday, when bridge traffic still had more than an hour wait by the time the puck dropped at 4 p.m.

"We rarely see traffic this busy," Corsaro said. "This is as busy as any holiday weekend."

But bridge officials anticipated longer delays Sunday and Tuesday -- as well as Friday -- because tripleheaders were scheduled in HSBC Arena, and both the Canadian and U.S. teams were playing, Corsaro said. Canadian shoppers were mixed in with the bridge traffic, as well, Corsaro said.

Additional staffing had been brought in, and the three bridges combined had all 48 lanes open -- 45 of which can be used for automobile traffic, Corsaro said.

"As long as we have every lane open and we have adequate staffing, I don't know what else can be done," Corsaro said. "This simply comes down to the volume of traffic exceeds the limits of our facility."

"We advise travelers to give themselves plenty of time and check the wait times at the border," he said.

Canadians heading to the game Tuesday offered several perspectives.

"It was terrible," Pat Menchenton said of crossing the Peace Bridge. "I come to Sabres games all the time, and it's nothing like this."

However, Menchenton and others didn't let bridge delays spoil their experience at the World Juniors.

"I've waited my whole life for the World Juniors," said Menchenton, who lives north of Toronto, "so it's worth it."

Stephanie Poirier, from St. Catharines, was in Peace Bridge traffic for two hours but expected the wait.

"I'm just bummed I missed the start of the game," Poirier said as she hustled into HSBC Arena.

"What can you do?" said Simon Hames, of Oakfield, Ont., who waited 2 1/2 hours to cross at the Rainbow Bridge. "It [ticks] me off more that I had to pay $30 for parking six blocks away."

Ecklund, the philanthropist from Hamilton who purchased hundreds of tournament tickets for returning soldiers and their families, was more upset by the bridge delays. Between that, and some other issues he has with the tournament, he's likely done with the World Juniors in Buffalo.

"I'll probably forget about going to any other games," Ecklund said.

e-mail: jrey@buffnews.com

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