FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: December 6, 2007
With Traffic And Wait-Times Likely To Worsen At NYs Border Crossings In 2008, Schumer Pushes Comprehensive Investigation Into Border Staffing Levels
Drivers at NYS Border Crossings Regularly Face Multi-Mile Backups, Waiting 2-3 Hours for Customs Processing to Cross Into the U.S. From Canada
With the Implementation of WHTI Rules Set to Begin in January 2008, Longer Waits are Expected at the Border, Threatening Cross-Border Commerce, Businesses in NYS Border Communities, and Regional Tourism
Schumer's Bill Will Assess Traffic Patterns at the Border, Wait Times, CBP Staffing Levels and the Economic Impact on NYS Border Communities Caused by Border Traffic
With New Yorkers regularly experiencing hours-long waits at Upstate NY border crossings, which are only expected to grow worse with the implementation of stricter border crossing rules in January 2008, today U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer introduced a bill that will institute comprehensive studies on the causes and effects of traffic at New York State’s border crossings. Schumer is concerned that serious traffic congestions at border crossings are harming local businesses in NYS border communities and hampering the ability of tourists to move between the U.S. and Canada. Schumer also expressed concern that a lack of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) agents at border crossings is contributing to the traffic jams and long waits.
The congestion at the borders is only expected to grow worse with the start of implementation of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which will require land passengers to show a passport when crossing the Northern border. As the first step of WHTI implementation, CBP has pledged to stop accepting oral declarations of citizenship and to begin demanding documents proving citizenship (such as a birth certificate) at the border starting on January 31, 2008.
Schumer today introduced his bill, the Border Wait Times Study Act, which will examine the following issues at the country’s border crossings: traffic patterns, wait times, and how CBP staffing levels are affecting wait times. In addition, Schumer’s bill will assess whether and how long waits at the borders are economically hurting New York State’s border communities.
“It’s high time that we get a crystal clear picture of what is causing these huge delays at New York State’s border crossings, which have the potential to both jeopardize cross-border commerce and stifle regional tourism,” said Senator Schumer. “New Yorkers are all too familiar with the frustration that comes with sitting in your car for hours during family vacations or even shopping trips, waiting to cross the border. These comprehensive studies will pinpoint the necessary steps we need to take to ensure that in the future New Yorkers can quickly and safely cross the border.”
In recent months, border waits have grown longer due to CBP agents stepping up border inspections in anticipation of new rules scheduled to take effect in January that will require Americans to show a passport or other proof of citizenship and identity to enter the United States.
Schumer today noted that there is also concern that inadequate staffing levels at inspection booths at the state’s border crossings has led to waits of up to two or three hours during peak travel periods. During holidays, additional post-9/11 security measures have led to even longer waits; for example, during the 4th of July weekend this year, some drivers reported waiting up to five hours to cross the bridge. The problem begins early in the morning during the 6am to 9am rush hour.
Schumer also noted that border congestion hinders business in border communities across the state. The United States and Canada have the largest bi-national trade relationship in the world. Trade with Canada supports an estimated 350,000 jobs in New York alone. Fully 25% of all New York State exports, accounting for $10.5 billion, go to Canada every year. The impact of tourism and spur-of-the-moment trips is also staggering, with Canadians accounting for 2.2 million visits to New York in 2002 and injecting $389 million into the local economies.
Schumer, who has led the charge to ensure a safe, secure and efficient flow of traffic at New York State’s border crossings, said that increased staffing would help to move cars and trucks more quickly through the inspection station and would alleviate some of the gridlock. In the past, Schumer has sent letters to the Customs Commissioner urging him to increase staff levels at the stations, especially during the morning rush hour between 6am and 9am, and to better plan the deployment of staff at the inspection booths. "The delays, backups and waiting times have become more than just an inconvenience – it is now interfering with local commerce and safety," Schumer wrote. "I urge Customs to increase staffing during peak commuter traffic hours as soon as possible."
Schumer’s bill, the Border Wait Times Study Act, will require the Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Commerce to submit reports to Congress on the commercial and passenger vehicle traffic at points of entry across the nation and New York State.
The study will investigate four issues:
• Traffic patterns of commercial and passenger vehicles at international land ports of entry along the northern and southern borders of the United States;
• Volume and wait times of commercial and passenger vehicles entering and exiting the United States as land ports of entry since the year 2000;
• The effect of staffing levels on wait times at land points of entry since the year 2000; and
• The impact that border traffic, wait times and staff levels have had on the economic health of border communities across the country.
The Secretary of Transportation and the Secretary of Commerce, in conjunction with the Secretary of Homeland Security, will be responsible for conducting the studies.
Schumer has raised serious concerns that DHS is moving too quickly to implement new passport rules and has urged DHS to give NY State enough time to make new enhanced drivers’ licenses available to citizens for border crossings.