Truck pre-processing centers aims to expedite cross-border movements

by Ron Stang

WINDSOR, Ont. – In what’s being touted as a major step in solving Windsor-Detroit’s prolonged border truck back-ups at the Ambassador Bridge, the Canadian Transit Co., which owns the bridge, and technology firm ViaSafe of Ottawa, have announced the London Advance Border Processing Centre (ABC).

The centre is located “strategically” to serve drivers headed to several border points. Located just off Hwy. 401 it’s two hours from Windsor and one hour from Sarnia. It can serve drivers heading east to Ft. Erie and Queenston.

The centre is six kilometres west of the Hwy. 401/402 interchange, at Interchange 177 A & B (Colonel Talbot Rd. or Hwy. 4).

“You can see the facility from the road. It’s about a two kilometre drive for the driver,” Skip McMahon, manager of special projects for the bridge company, says. The other reason the centre is located some distance from the border is to allow time for pre-processing of paperwork while drivers are en route to the border. Once they arrive at the border their papers should be in order, making it easier to get U.S. Customs clearance.

Officials say the centre was created to assist the some 30 per cent of drivers who don’t have their paperwork in order when they arrive at Customs.

That holds them up at primary inspection and even longer at secondary inspection, where they have to leave their cabs to visit brokers on site.

That 30 per cent, or 1,800 trucks daily in the case of the Windsor-Detroit crossing, can back up the other 70 per cent, creating long delays – sometimes for hours – during heavy traffic, poor weather or security alerts.

The London processing centre works this way: A driver pulls off the highway and into the ABC lot, which has capacity for 75 trucks (with room for expansion.)

The driver presents paperwork to the ABC staffer, who in turn makes sure there is the relevant documentation (i.e., invoice, inward manifest) or assists in obtaining it.

The documentation is scanned and sent electronically or by fax to the U.S. customs broker of record.

In a matter of, say, 15 minutes, drivers can return to their trucks and drive to the border, assured that the information will have been processed by brokers and sent to U.S. Customs by the time they arrive at primary inspection.

The information “will have the key elements in it that will allow the drivers to move forward,” Oryst Dydynsky, ViaSafe’s international trade president, says. He adds that, “for the most part,” drivers will be released immediately and won’t have to proceed to secondary.

Paul LeFave, an area representative for the Ontario Trucking Association who’s with Kitchener-based Al’s Cartage, calls the system “excellent” and said this will be an “answer” for getting trucks “out of the cue” for the Ambassador Bridge, a major source of irritation not just to truckers but to Windsor residents who have complained about truck back-ups causing traffic congestion and increased pollution.

But Paul Innes, president of the local NAFTA Superhighway Coalition, says the centre will only address part of the problem. While calling it a “very creative approach” to easing border tie-ups LeFave says the centre doesn’t address the major cause of backlogs, the lack of staff at U.S. Customs. “The borders on the American side have to have staffing or this will mean nothing.”

Meanwhile, the ABC location in London could be a victim of its own success. The centre is located so close to Highway 401 that it doesn’t provide a lot of road space for drivers exiting 401.

They have about 20 metres to quickly cross two lanes of traffic on Colonel Talbot Rd. to make the left hand turn on to Littlewood Rd., where the centre is located.

According to London city councillor Cheryl Miller, Colonel Talbot is a busy roadway at the best of times as the main route to St. Thomas and Hwy 402. “There’s no ability to move trucks quickly across that intersection.” She says trucks could also back up on to the 401 ramp.

But ABC spokeswoman Sandi Villeneuve says the company has “some simple solutions” to solve the problem. They would include a new connecting road between the off-ramp and Littlewood Rd. that would bypass Colonel Talbot. She says company officials are in discussions with London city transportation staff.

Meanwhile, another new truck centre, about 30 kms outside Windsor just off Hwy. 401 at Hwy 77, and expected to open in November, will offer much the same service.

Ross Clarke, a partner in the Raceway Travel Plaza, located next to a new auto racetrack, says the difference between ABC and his centre is that Raceway will be a full truck stop offering a restaurant, showers, motel and light repair.

It will handle 150 trucks. Clarke says his venture would offer pre-processing as part of “full trucker facilities.”

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