By Sam Hoyt
The Peace Bridge carries more than $40 billion in trade every year. Canada is the No. 1 export market for state of New York businesses. Western New York relies heavily on visitors from southern Ontario; approximately 5 million cars cross the Peace Bridge annually, and 70 percent are Canadians coming to New York to shop, eat at restaurants, fly out of the Buffalo airport, watch the Bills and Sabres, ski in Ellicottville and visit Canalside. The renaissance in Buffalo is fueled in part, by our taking advantage of our place at an international border.
While the Peace Bridge is critical infrastructure, it is unlike typical highway bridges because its capacity is determined by Customs practices of two countries. In fact, the Peace Bridge carries only 25 percent of the traffic volume carried by the Grand Island Bridges.
The Peace Bridge Authority understands its role in ensuring a properly functioning border as evidenced by the $10 million expenditure to widen the U.S. approach to facilitate the extension of the NEXUS lane and allow all vehicles better access to inspection booths. Likewise, the $24 million renovation of the Customs Commercial building will expedite secondary processing, minimizing the amount of time trucks are parked in the plaza.
The completion of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Gateway project will create a single point of access to and from the plaza, eliminating the convoluted traffic flow. When combined, these projects show a 7 percent increase in efficiency at the U.S. plaza.
Past articles have referenced the negative impacts of having too few Customs booths open during peak volume times. Recently the focus has been on Customs and Border Protection truck procedures. Together, we are working on solutions. For example, the authority is partnering with CBP to replace outdated radiological detection equipment with more modern technology. The authority committed $2.8 million to this effort.
Critical to the processing improvements is to use the lessons learned from the pre-inspection pilot. These improvements can be implemented relatively quickly and provide much-needed relief. These include reworking the CBP information technology infrastructure, eliminating cash collection at the primary inspection booth and requiring e-manifests for empty trucks. These are decisions that the CBP should make immediately. These changes, without any other infrastructure, result in double- digit improvements in efficiency beyond the current construction projects.
Finally, Congress and Parliament should approve moving commercial inspection to Canada, where there is ample real estate to accommodate it. Passing legislation to allow this to occur as quickly as possible should be a top priority.
Sam Hoyt is chairman of the Buffalo & Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority.