U.S. Customs Staffs More Booths at Windsor Bridge

by Ingrid Phaneuf

DETROIT, Mich. – Ambassador Bridge lineups may be on the wane now that U.S. Customs is leasing four more primary booths from the Ambassador Bridge Authority.

But Windsor city officials aren’t holding their breath.

The booths, built by the bridge last year, were finally opened by U.S Customs July 5. Prior to July 5, Customs was already staffing up to nine booths.

Now the total number of primary booths when fully staffed comes to 13.

According to Ambassador Bridge officials, the booths, if fully staffed, should considerably reduce the waiting time to cross the bridge into the U.S.

But Windsor city officials, who spoke to Truck News in July, said they were adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

“So far they’ve made a difference,” said Norma Coleman, chief of staff for Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis.

“But I should qualify that by saying the automotive plants are on shut down until the beginning of August, so it’s hard to get a really good indication.

“Just the Chrysler plant sends 1,400 trucks across the bridge per day. So when it comes to knowing whether the improvement is permanent, we’ll just have to wait and see.”

But even including the automotive haulers, the numbers are still good, according to bridge officials.

Prior to the addition of the four booths, significant truck backups on Huron Church Rd. in Windsor began to accumulate once approaching trucks exceeded the rate of 300 per hour.

That’s because nine primary booths were only able to clear 270 trucks per hour at a rate of 120 seconds per clearance (the speediest time cited).

Of course, if clearance took longer, if there were fewer staffed booths or if there were more than 300 trucks per hour, the backups would be even longer.

According to officials, on busy days inbound traffic to the U.S. could reach 6,000 trucks per 24-hours. With a peak-processing rate of 270 trucks per hour, the nine booths were only able to accommodate 6,480 trucks in that same period.

But with 13 fully staffed booths, the outlook gets substantially rosier.

Post July 5, the 13 booths, when fully operational, can process 390 trucks per hour at a peak processing rate of 120 seconds per truck.

Processing 390 trucks per hour, U.S. Customs could theoretically accommodate 9,400 trucks in a 24-hour period.

That is assuming that all the booths are staffed at all times, which of course won’t be the case.

Staffing was just one of the issues faced by U.S. Customs when the four new booths were first built, said U.S. Customs attach for commercial operations and international trade in Ottawa, Eric Couture.

“What people didn’t seem to understand when it came to staffing the booths was that the bridge decided to put them in without consulting U.S. Customs,” he explained.

“But there’s a lot more to staffing more booths than just moving into them.

“There were security and manpower considerations.

“And none of it was coordinated beforehand.

“What people don’t understand is that U.S. Customs doesn’t control government facilities or the staffing or the leasing of them.

“All federal departments and agencies must submit budgets to the General Services Administration.”

Couture added primary booths are not the sole solution to border lineups.

“While this will help, there’s also the need for better infrastructure, such as roads and ramps leading to and away from the bridge into the U.S.

“How do you justify facilitating Canadian trade to U.S. taxpayers?”

In other words, the number of U.S. citizens who realize that what’s good for Canadian trade is also good for the U.S. may be in the minority.

“The fact the two economies are intimately interrelated is not something that’s immediately apparent,” said Couture.

It’s up to Canada to point the way when it comes to infrastructure improvements, said Couture,.

He added electronic advance reporting on U.S. imports is also expected to speed up customs processing.

But even developing and installing a system for electronic prior notice reporting can be a lengthy process, Couture pointed out.

U.S. Customs is still working on harmonizing its prior notice time frames with those of the Food and Drug Administration, he said. No specific deadline has been set.

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