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U.S., Canada Take Steps to Decrease Border Wait Times

("American Shipper")

The United States and Canada announced progress Friday towards their goal of increasing security and decreasing congestion for travelers and commercial vehicles crossing the border between the world's two largest trading partners.

Tom Ridge, U.S. secretary of homeland security, and Anne McLellan, Canada's deputy prime minister, pledged to reduce transit times between Windsor, Canada and Detroit by 25 percent in the next year. The cities are connected by the Ambassador Bridge and the Windsor-Detroit Tunnel, which were used last year by more than 1.8 million commercial vehicles and 13.4 million cars.

"The 25 percent challenge is an ambitious and achievable goal. We are committed to providing the leadership and the investments necessary to improving flows through this critical trade corridor," Ridge said after a joint meeting in Detroit with private sector tunnel, bridge and ferry operators in the region.

Inadequate infrastructure at border checkpoints has hindered so-called "smart-border" initiatives since 2001 that rely on technology to identify and pre-clear passengers and cargo because there are no additional express lanes for those providing advance information to bypass traffic backups.

McLellan said the Canada Border Services Agency will begin immediately hiring an additional 30 officers to increase by 20 percent the amount of commercial traffic that can be checked and cleared at Windsor.

In addition to short-term measures in the region, the two neighbors said they have completed a framework for negotiations on a pre-clearance system that would involve reversing the traditional notion of conducting border checks after the border has been physically crossed and stationing U.S. and Canadian officers in the other country to inspect people and cargo before border transit. The switch in protocol would help intercept potential terrorists using explosives-laden vehicles before they crossed the many bridges and tunnels that are vital economic lifelines between the two nations.

In October, Ridge and McLellan announced plans for a pre-clearance pilot project at the Peace Bridge involving the relocation of all U.S. primary and secondary border operations for both commercial and passenger traffic from Buffalo to Fort Erie, Canada. Officials said Friday they are studying suitable locations for a reciprocal pilot to base Canadian border functions on the U.S. side of the border, such as at the Thousand Islands Bridge or the Queenston-Lewiston crossing. Both countries will also need to change their national laws governing extra-territorial authority for law enforcement officers.

The moves could be interim steps toward integrated border inspection areas in which customs authorities conduct joint operations, something U.S. officials said they are considering.

Additional measures on tap under the "smart-border" initiative include the expansion of U.S. pre-clearance facilities and inspectors at the Halifax International Airport as soon as the construction of the necessary infrastructure is completed and seven more pre-clearance sites for commercial vehicles, according to a joint status report on border cooperation.

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