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Endless Wait Times at Border Crossings In WNY Hold Up Traveling New Yorkers, Slow Down Important Economic Activity like Tourism and Shopping

Schumer Formally Asks Government Accountability Office (GAO) to Investigate Slow Crossing Times, Recommend Concrete Ways to Speed Up Travel

Schumer: Reasonable Crossing Times Critical to New York's Economy, Current Wait Times Must be Sped Up

Today, U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer formally requested the federal watchdog agency, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate the long wait times that New Yorkers must battle through in order to cross the border. A timely border crossing is essential to New York's economy which depends on the commerce and tourists that come through the international border. Current wait times of up three hours slow down economic activity and discourage the type of commerce that New York's communities need for growth.  Schumer is asking GAO to identify nonsecurity factors that can be eliminated that are responsible for delays.


"Waiting hours on end on a regular basis to cross the border is unacceptable, and the persistent delays have become a thorn in the side of economic development efforts." Schumer said. "The first and most important priority at our border has to be security, but we've also got to develop a system for people and commerce to cross the border efficiently, right now that's not happening and it needs to change."


Despite attempts at improvement, crossing the international border still takes far too long. According to statistics provided by the Peace Bridge Authority, who tracked border volume and wait times over a three year period, it is clear that wait times have gone up significantly. In July of this year, commuters could expect to wait nearly two hours during morning rush hour traffic going eastbound through the LewistownQueenston crossing. According to the same statistics crossing the Rainbow Bridge is no easier. In July of 2010, crossing the Rainbow Bridge going eastbound meant a two hour delay.


In some instances, statistics show a decrease in border traffic but an increase in wait times. For instance, in 2009 approximately 700 vehicles attempted to cross the Rainbow Bridge going eastbound at 10:00am and waited about ten minutes; in July of 2010 less than 600 vehicles tried to cross at 10:00am and waited two hours each. The statistics are equally troubling at other locations and even when volume increased somewhat from 2009 to 2010 the increase in wait times was wildly out of proportion.  For example in July of 2009 someone going eastbound across the Rainbow Bridge around noon could expect to be among about 550 vehicles with a wait of less than one minute. In 2010 the number of vehicles crossing at that time increased by approximately 100 but the wait time jumped to two hours.


Improvements must be made to reduce wait times for New Yorkers, but an effort also must be made to reduce Canadian wait times as well. Tourists and businesspeople coming to Canada are a huge source of economic growth for Western New York that must continue. Everyday Canadians come to New York to shop, visit restaurants, catch a Sabers or Bills game and in the process boost local businesses and the overall economy.


 Recently, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), which is responsible for overseeing border security,  has changed its operational tactics concerning the inspection of individuals and vehicles seeking to enter the United States, which may be contributing to the increased wait times.


CBP's first priority must be to ensure that terrorists, unlawful aliens, drugs, and other contraband do not enter the United States through our ports of entry. But at the same time, CBP must also strive to ensure that lawful crossborder traffic can move through our ports of entry as quickly as possible so as to not create a chilling effect over vital crossborder tourism and commerce.


Today, Schumer is asking the GAO to conduct a comprehensive study to identify the main factors behind long wait times at the international border and make specific recommendations to speed the process up. A comprehensive study will give CBP a fresh perspective on the wait time problems and concrete ways to reduce wait times all while maintaining a high level of safety.


Schumer has led the charge to ensure a safe, secure and efficient flow of traffic at New York State's border crossings. In the past he has pushed for increased staffing that would help to move cars and trucks more quickly through the inspection stations and alleviate some of the gridlock. Also, 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. Just this year, Schumer pushed the Department of Homeland Security to develop a comprehensive northern border security strategy that would lay the groundwork for improvements that would reduce wait times and maintain safety.


Schumer letter to Comptroller General Dodaro can be seen below


September 29, 2010

The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro

Comptroller General of the United States

U.S. Government Accountability Office

441 G Street, NW

Washington, DC 20548

Dear Mr. Dodaro:

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security, I am responsible for directing the Senate's oversight of operations on our northern border.  Over the last few months, I have received numerous firsthand reports and have read articles indicating that wait times for persons crossing the Northern Border between New York State and Canada have significantly increased as U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has changed its operational tactics along the border with regard to inspections of individuals and vehicles seeking to enter the United States.  These tactics include increased reliance on timeconsuming questioning to determine the individual's intent in crossing the border, irrespective of whether that individual has already been prescreened with a background check for expedited processing. 

There can be no dispute that CBP has a difficult mission in ensuring that terrorists, unlawful aliens, drugs, and other contraband will not enter the United States through our ports of entry.  By the same token, CBP must also strive to ensure that lawful crossborder traffic can move through our ports of entry as quickly as possible so as to not create a chilling effect over vital crossborder tourism and commerce.

In this capacity, I write to ask your office to conduct a study of the main factors behind extended wait times at our northern border crossings in New York State and to issue recommendations on how CBP can best reduce these wait times while nonetheless fulfilling its security mission.  An outside review of the practices on our northern border can provide a much needed fresh perspective that should assist CBP to maximize its security mission while not compromising the commerce and tourism that are vital to New York's economy.  


I thank you for your attention to this important matter and look forward to working with you.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office at (202)2247433.





Charles E. Schumer


Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees