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Cdn-U.S. border traffic dips for first time in decades

BRANTFORD, Ont. - For the first time in years, the number of trucks crossing the border declined in 2001 over the levels in the previous year.Even though total traffic declined, Canadian truckers keep...


BRANTFORD, Ont. – For the first time in years, the number of trucks crossing the border declined in 2001 over the levels in the previous year.

Even though total traffic declined, Canadian truckers keep gaining market share over American counterparts. And, for all the talk about border slowdowns, the numbers from 2001 don’t support the idea Sept. 11 had much impact on the flow of trucks across the border except in the few weeks following the tragedy.

In 2001, 13.2 million trucks crossed the border – that’s 25 trucks a minute – and it’s a drop of 3.4 per cent over 2000 numbers. That’s surprising since border truck traffic has been growing at a faster rate than the economy since the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement, later replaced by NAFTA in 1994.

Last year, while the economy grew slowly, preliminary figures suggest it grew by 1.5 per cent, cross-border truck traffic went in the other direction.

If the monthly truck traffic figures in 2001 are compared to those in 2000, the only real blip is in September when volumes fell 11.9 per cent.

In October, November and December, volumes, while below those in 2000, were just down about the same as the average decline in traffic for the whole year (3.4 per cent). And even though the downward blip in September appears large, part of the reason is that August volumes were quite high. The number of trucks crossing the border in September (1,025,174) was actually slightly higher than the number in July. So it looks as if most of the drop off in traffic occurred because of the slowdown in the economy. Border delay may have slowed traffic, but it didn’t stop it.

The biggest year-over-year drop, -6.8 per cent, was in New Brunswick, followed by British Columbia (-5.8 per cent) and Ontario (-4.3 per cent). Cross-border traffic in Quebec was stationary and on the Prairies it actually grew by 5.1 per cent. In fact traffic between Saskatchewan and Montana, albeit relatively small numbers, grew by a remarkable 22 per cent in 2001.

Of the 118 border road crossings, the top 10 shown in the table account for three-quarters of all truck traffic. The numbers for Ambassador Bridge are a guestimate because Canada Customs and Revenue Agency numbers for this crossing are combined with those of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. But, making an educated guess about the annual capacity of the tunnel, it’s not too hard to guess at the traffic on the bridge.

Not surprisingly, Ontario accounts for five of the top 10 spots. Ontario-U.S. truck traffic – 8.3 million trucks in 2001 – accounts for almost two-thirds of total cross-border traffic. This Ontario traffic was down 4.3 per cent in 2001 and the biggest drop was between Ontario and New York (-5.7 per cent). On the Peace Bridge between Fort Erie and Buffalo, the drop was 6.8 per cent.

One border crossing defying the general downward trend was Coutts-Sweetgrass connecting Alberta’s Hwy. 4 and I-15. Here, traffic was up 9.5 per cent in 2001, maintaining the Coutts-Sweetgrass record of having the fastest growth rate on the border over the long haul.

There are almost four times as many trucks at Coutts-Sweetrgrass as there were in the mid-1980s.

Traffic at Manitoba’s Emerson also bucked national trends. It grew by 1.5 per cent and this border also (like Coutts) maintains its record as one of the faster growing gateways to and from the U.S. Volumes are up almost three times since the mid-1980s.

Overall levels of truck traffic on the British Columbia border were down 5.8 per cent in 2001 over 2000.

And the busiest border point – connecting the Pacific Highway to I-5 in Blaine – reflected this decline with a drop of 9.5 per cent. But just up the valley at Aldergrove where B.C. Hwy. 13 hits the border, truck traffic was up by 13.5 per cent. And even further up, on B.C. Hwy. 11 at Sumas, traffic was up 8.6 per cent.

Maybe everyone is trying to avoid the congestion at Blaine.


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