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Schumer: Traffic On The Peace Bridge Has Reached Outrageous Proportions; Threatens To Severely Halt Commerce

Drivers now face multi-mile backups, waiting 2-3 hours for Customs processing to cross into Buffalo; New report shows only 17% of inspection booths staffed during morning rush hour

Standing at the Peace Bridge with frustrated drivers, Schumer urges Customs to increase staffing levels and better planning to meet peak traffic demands

Standing alongside frustrated drivers at the foot of the Peace Bridge, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today urged the Bureau of Customs & Border Protection to increase staffing levels at bridge check points to meet peak traffic demands. Traffic problems on the bridge have become more than an inconvenience, and local businesses are starting to feel the pinch of less customers and more expensive deliveries.

Anyone who's driven along the Peace Bridge during peak times knows that this is a problem that has reached outrageous proportions," Schumer said. "Cars and trucks are just sitting on the Peace Bridge going nowhere for hours, and when that happens, everyone suffers drivers, businesses , and tourists. The bottom line is that Customs needs to better staff the crossing and make sure that its planning accounts for when traffic reaches its peak."

Inadequate staffing at the inspection booths has lead to waits of up to two or three hours during peak travel periods. During holidays, additional post9/11 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 said that the problem is caused not only by understaffing but poor planning by Customs which has not strategically deployed more staff to accommodate peak hours.

New data obtained by Schumers office shows: Even though car traffic is down this year (523,508 cars for June '04) by 5% from last year (551,766 for June '03), motorists are reporting wait times of up to three hours on the Peace Bridge.

On July 1st (a Thursday), for example, only 2 out of 12 primary inspection booths were being staffed during the 6:30 a.m. morning rush hour. Records obtained by Schumer's office indicate that severe traffic backups for cars traveling from Canada to the U.S. began as early as 5:30 a.m. and didn't clear up until well after noon. Morning commuters crossing the Peace Bridge have waited up to two hours on normal weekdays.

The records also indicate that while the Customs booths were more fully staffed during the Fourth of July holiday weekend, they were still not adequately staffed to a satisfactory level because motorists complained they had to wait hours to cross the bridge. On July 6th (the Tuesday and first work day following the holiday weekend), records again indicate that at 6:30 a.m. only two auto lanes were staffed, and severe backups began as early as 6:40 a.m. By 8:30 a.m., even though by that time 11 booths were being staffed, the backups had built up over the bridge, past the Canadian Customs plaza, and beyond the Thompson Road exit (the third highway exit along the QEW) in Canada. The traffic jam didn't start to clear up until almost 11:00 a.m.

According to the Peace Bridge Authority, the average processing time for autos should be 38 seconds. Between July 1st and 6th this year, the average auto processing time was 76 seconds, and in some occasions processing took up to 190 seconds during that time. Schumer said he was alerted to the early morning commuter situation because of calls to his Buffalo office by frustrated motorists waiting to cross the bridge. "The solution here is clear," Schumer said. "If better staffing of the inspection booths begins in time for the morning rush, we can avoid these infuriating delays to people just trying to get to work in the morning."

Schumer, who has lead the charge to ensure a safe, secure and efficient flow of traffic over the Peace Bridge, 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 a letter today to Customs Commissioner Robert Bonner, Schumer urged him to increase staff levels at the station, 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 has led the charge for smoother traffic flow at the Peace Bridge. Earlier this month, he convened a meeting in his Washington office with top Homeland Security officials including Undersecretary Asa Hutchinson to discuss plans for shared border management at the crossing that would improve the flow of traffic on the bridge.