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U.S.-Canada Border More Than a Speed Bump for Travelers These Days

Tom Banse
04/22/2009

There was a time not that long ago that the U.S.–Canada border was little more than a speed bump for drivers crossing between the Northwest states and provinces. Those days are definitely fading. Correspondent Tom Banse listened to the latest update from U.S. authorities at Washington's famous Peace Arch crossing. You'll want to listen if you're crossing the northern border soon.

TRANSCRIPT

For starters, do you have a passport or one of the equivalent passport cards? You'll need one as of June 1. A basic driver's license and birth certificate will no longer work then for drivers and ferry travelers.

The passport requirement has been postponed twice before. But this time, the Seattle field operations director for U.S. Customs and Border Protection says it looks to stick.

James: "I'm confident. I have not heard of any additional delays."

Michele James is not expecting chaos at the northern border when the deadline comes. Based on recent sampling, 96% of travelers had the proper papers when they stopped at the inspection booth.

There is that other matter of how long it takes to get to the front of the line at the border crossings between Vancouver and Seattle. The U.S. government is completely rebuilding and expanding busy Peace Arch crossing.

Four of the eight lanes at the crossing are out of commission and will be that way all summer long. Robin Graf oversees this project for the General Services Administration.

Graf: "Maintaining operations while constructing a new interstate, traffic lanes, a new bridge, new inspection booths and a new 30,000 square foot building is a bit like changing a tire on a moving vehicle. We're doing what we can to minimize the disruption to the smooth flow of traffic across the border."

Graf says the reconstruction of the Peach Arch port–of–entry has run $30 million over budget. Congress bailed out the project in the recent federal stimulus bill. The construction won't be done in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as originally hoped.

Ian Burkheimer is working on Olympics tourism promotion for a consortium of Northwest states called PNWER. He says it would be unacceptable to have border delays during the Games.

Burkheimer: "The idea that they'll still be doing construction or not have the border construction completed during the largest most visible event in the world at that time is not in anyone's best interest."

Burkheimer is hoping Amtrak will get a second daily roundtrip between Vancouver, Seattle and Portland up and running soon.

U.S. border officials say big traffic jams are more likely this summer than next February. During the Olympics, they're confident additional inspectors and temporary lane reconfigurations can minimize delays. There's just physically no room for that in the near term though. The government is scrambling to add capacity at alternate crossing points near Lynden and Sumas, Washington by summer's end. I'm Tom Banse at the U.S. Canada border in Blaine.

© Copyright 2009, KUOW

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