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Another Voice: Return of border travel demands patience, resources

Another Voice: Return of border travel demands patience, resources

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Over the last 20 months, our nation and region have suffered through an unprecedented and well-publicized two-way restriction of nonessential travel at the northern border that has severely impacted the longstanding economic and societal ties between the world’s greatest democracies.

Two nations, close in every way, have endured the unthinkable.

For many generations, residents and municipalities in both Western New York and Southern Ontario have cultivated a multitude of trade, tourism and family bonds that have blurred the international line that supposedly separates them. Yet, those unfamiliar with this border community reality may not appreciate the drastic impacts that nonessential Covid-19 induced travel bans have created for those who lived it.

With the recent announcement of a reopening of our ports to U.S.-bound vaccinated Canadian travelers as of Nov. 8, we are beginning to see a light at the end of a long tunnel as it relates to an eventual return of normalcy to this binational partnership.

There is much work left to be done, however, and our collective advocacy from citizens, elected officials and border organizations must continue unabated for the foreseeable future. This is specifically true for key members of our Southern Ontario and Western New York parliamentary and congressional delegations, as well as New York’s newly installed, border-savvy governor.

U.S. Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have played critical roles in pressuring the U.S. federal government to expedite reopening timelines. Reps. Brian Higgins and Chris Jacobs, along with members of the federal, provincial and local government on the Canadian side, have maintained a relentless approach to sharing data and constituent stories relating to the true costs, both financial and emotional, of not resuming more normal movements of people at the region’s four international bridge crossings.

In her new position, Gov. Kathy Hochul has also begun to prioritize this topic as a statewide issue of true importance.

The Niagara Falls Bridge Commission and our fellow border operators welcome these continued calls and overtures to Ottawa and Washington as it relates to a return to normal policies and operations. The new U.S.-bound crossing requirements coming in November will take time, patience and consistent communication to assist travelers as they adapt to this temporary status. And while we certainly defer to health professionals on the containment of Covid-19 spread, our organization stands ready to facilitate travel and traffic at all levels.

This recent period apart has allowed many to reflect on the essential nature of the bridge spans and infrastructure that the commission is chartered to maintain. There is little doubt that consistent investment will ensure that we are able to meet our mission to serve the traveling public.

To achieve such investment requires that federal, state and provincial governments maintain their recognition that such expenditures truly matter, as our land ports-of-entry are essential conduits to the economic and cultural viability of both countries.

Kathleen Neville is chairwoman, and Ken Bieger is chief executive officer, of the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission.

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