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Balancing Act

HALIFAX, N. S. - The gradual shift towards a North America with invisible borders was halted abruptly when a group of terrorists attacked Americans in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Trucke...

HALIFAX, N. S. –The gradual shift towards a North America with invisible borders was halted abruptly when a group of terrorists attacked Americans in New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001. Truckers must now accept the fact the need for security will reign supreme, Paul Morris, executive director with the US Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection said during the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association’s International Transportation Summit.

“September 11, 2001 changed the face of the world,” he said. “It was a wake-up call. There really is a threat out there and it has not diminished. We don’t want to be complacent just because there have been no further events. The threat remains, and it’s not just on the US’s door, it’s at Canada’s door as well.”

With that sobering warning, Morris went on to say the flow of goods across the Canada/US border is improving and should continue to do so. He admitted the summer of 2007 was “terrible for wait times.”

He blamed the wait times on the international incident involving Andrew Speaker, the American traveller with a highly-infectious case of tuberculosis who tried to sneak back into the US by way of Canada.

In response to that incident, the Department of Homeland Security “went back to the drawing board” with partners including the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Transport Canada and the US DoT, Morris explained.

“Those four agencies were to come up with a better way to measure wait times using various technologies,” he said. Morris said he hopes their efforts will bear fruit by summer of 2009, when new border traffic management systems will be implemented.

In Buffalo, for instance, where there are three crossings with highly- variable wait times, technology will be used to divert vehicles to the crossing where traffic is moving most efficiently.

However, technology costs money and Morris admitted that wrestling the funds out of Washington can prove difficult.

“We need money to bring our facilities up to their current volumes,” he said. “Some of these facilities exceed 70 years old and they were built for the volumes we had 70 years ago.” He noted the US needs $5 billion over the next 10 years to maintain and upgrade its ports of entry.

In addition to funding for the border crossing facilities, Morris said border agencies also need more staff.

“We need to put a butt in every booth during peak times,” he said.

Fortunately, Morris said the requests for funds have not been ignored and the US has provided funding for new border staff. One change you may see at Canada/US borders is the addition of more lanes that can be used for either car or truck traffic, depending on what’s more backed up at any given time. Morris said “high/low booths” could be used, and the height could be adjusted to serve either cars or trucks.

Morris also hopes to see increased use of trusted traveller programs such as NEXUS and FAST. Currently, more than 10% of people crossing the border belong to a trusted traveller program, but Morris said “we want to continue to expand that, we’d love to see 25%.”

On the subject of cabotage, Morris emphasized it’s illegal for Canadian drivers to reposition empty trailers within the US.

“The movement from one US location to another US location of empty trailers is prohibited,”he said. “It’s seen as something that can be done by a US person.”

However, he did say that it’s okay for Canadian carriers to send a truck into the US to recover a stranded trailer. One audience member complained of receiving mixed messages on the legality of picking up a trailer in the US after a tractor breakdown, but Morris said that’s allowed “under the relay driver provision.”

Maria Luisa O’Connell, president of the Border Trade Alliance, gave a passionate lunch-time address, calling on Washington to do more to facilitate the movement of goods across the border. She pointed out nearly one-third of the US’s $14 trillion economy is dependent on trade.

“We have an economic crisis right now and trade is one of the only things that is working,” she said. “Economic security is as important as our national security.”

She pointed out NAFTA trade surpassed US$797 billion in 2007, but investments in border-crossing infrastructure are measured in millions. O’Connell said by 2030, 35% of the US GDP will be generated through trade, compared to 25% today. Yet, she complained not enough is being invested into the borders.

O’Connell also had some harsh words for her own government. She pointed out total funding requests for border-related new federal construction projects totaled US$620 million for the fiscal year 2009. Of that, 56% -or US$346 million -was spent on upgrading the Department of Homeland Security’s D. C. headquarters.

“Infrastructure at our ports of entry are not a luxury, they’re a need,” she said. She accused US Congress of making decisions based on “a policy of fear and knee-jerk reactions.”

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