Security concerns, pay dispute lead to traffic backup at U.S.-Canadian border

| Thursday, July 29, 2004

A perfect storm of sorts has been forming along the U.S.-Canada border in recent days, creating longer than usual delays for truckers and others crossing the boundary between the two nations.

In some areas, media outlets reported backups that ran more than a mile. One trucker told the Canadian Press that the backup was “the longest delay I can remember, and I've been traveling for 10 years.” Some reports, confirmed by the Canada Border Services Agency, placed the longest delays at crossings in Maine, Vermont, upstate New York and two in Michigan. Some crossings, such as Detroit, did not have delays Thursday morning.

Here’s what drivers are facing:

  • On Monday, Canada Border Services started a program called “export verification checks.” Chris Kealey, a spokesman for the Canadian agency, told Land Line the program involved a check of vehicles, travelers and their identification before they reach the U.S. border.
  • Security measures have been stepped up this week along the border. Media outlets reported that the tightened security was due to a request from the United States for Canadian help in connection with the Democratic National Convention in Boston, which started Monday, July 26, and ends Thursday, July 29. However, Kealey said that to his knowledge, the security boost was not connected to the convention.
  • Canadian border officers are reportedly stepping up truck inspections as part of a protest over pay. Kealey said government officials were working to resolve the dispute.
  • Friday starts a holiday weekend in Canada, which will increase all forms of traffic at the border crossings, compounding the problem.

Kealey said border delays varied from one crossing to another. Thursday morning, for example, the longest delay was at the Quebec crossing at 45 minutes, while some other crossings were running as little as 10 minutes delay. But any delays are likely to extend into the weekend.

The Canada Border Services Agency suggests several measures truckers can take to reduce the delays they face at the border.

  • Enroll in the FAST program. “For people who have enrolled in or are members of the FAST program, they have a pass to the front of the line,” Kealey said. FAST, which stands for the Free And Secure Trade, is a program designed to help move goods across the Canada-U.S. border more quickly. It involves verifying trade compliance away from the border, as well as pre-approving importers, carriers and registered drivers for their border crossings.
  • For those who are not enrolled in FAST, through this weekend they should have their ID and payload information readily available when they approach the border.
  • Most important: Be patient, Kealey said, “because there will be delays.”

 Canada Border Services also offers a Web site that can help truckers. At www.cbsa.gc.ca, the agency provides a list of every border crossing between the two nations and the approximate waiting time. The information is updated every hour.

On the Web site, click on the “English” link, then go to the “Quick Links” on the right side of the page. The first link is “Border wait times.” That link brings you to a list of crossings with wait times for both commercial and non-commercial vehicles, from both the U.S. side and Canadian side.

“I know it’s frustrating to wait,” Kealey said. “Try to be as patient as possible. In some locations, there have been accidents in the last three or four weeks. Try to be alert; there’s more traffic there than normal on the long weekends, so for everyone’s safety involved, just be extra cautious.”

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor

Mark Reddig can be reached at mark_reddig@landlinemag.com.

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