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Another Voice: Despite some delays, 2014 saw major improvements at the border

By Damon Piatek

As a Western New York-based customs broker, my company keeps a keen eye on local border crossing activity. While Canada-bound passenger vehicle delays dominated public perception this year, significant infrastructure projects were also tested, initiated and completed in 2014. This work – many years in the making – bodes well for the future of border-related trade and tourism in our region.

To the great credit of many leaders on both sides of our border, it seems that sustained local advocacy for border improvements has finally paid off. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has shifted to a key community partner in advancing port facility projects, while the Canada Border Services Agency has demonstrated a fresh perspective on the need to upgrade technology, equipment and processes at the busiest bridges.

For truck traffic, improvements to the U.S. customs plaza at the Peace Bridge, including widening of the bridge approach, renovation of the commercial secondary building and the “gateway” ramp to the I-190 North, will all go a long way to mitigating bridge congestion. Another critical project at the Peace Bridge has been the commercial pre-inspection pilot, which enables trucks entering the United States to be inspected before crossing the bridge. The program has been a success, from all accounts.

For passenger travel, it was also a good year in terms of infrastructure attention and technology. The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission started construction on a new bus processing facility at the Rainbow Bridge, and a second NEXUS processing booth was installed at the Whirlpool Bridge. E-ZPass was introduced at the three Lower Niagara River crossings, joining the Peace Bridge and making Buffalo Niagara the only region with E-ZPass available to all border travelers.

The Canada Border Services Agency and the Peace Bridge Authority were also extremely active this past year, unveiling NEXUS “e-gates” with expanded usage hours, and variable messaging signage to better direct motorists in the Fort Erie plaza.

The NEXUS program celebrated its one-millionth member this summer – largely influenced by the NEXUS Niagara program and our more than 150,000 local program enrollees. And 2014 included the formation of the Buffalo Niagara International Trade Gateway Organization, a collaboration of private, public and academic stakeholders to develop a globally recognized logistics center in our region.

Our region has long discussed the opportunities we have before us if we learn to think binationally. We’re starting to do so effectively, and are already seeing the fruits of those efforts.

Damon Piatek is president and CEO of Welke Customs Brokers USA Inc. and a member of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership’s Can-Am Council.