Of Bridges and Borders

by Ingrid Phaneuf

TORONTO, Ont. – “What do we do when something goes wrong?” was the all-consuming question at two information sessions held at the Ontario Trucking Association’s 77th annual convention in November.

Unsurprisingly, the two sessions, on bridges and customs reporting, respectively, were among the most well attended at the convention.

And equally unsurprisingly, for those in the know, the sessions largely offered trucking companies the rare opportunity to speak out to bridge and customs authorities about existing and anticipated problems at the border.

At the session on advance electronic cargo reporting, moderated by the Canadian Trucking Alliance’s vice-president of regulatory affairs, Ron Lennox, presenters John J. Considine, director of cargo verification for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and Rick Dale, project manager for the Canadian Customs and revenue Agency’s Commercial Re-engineering Division, gave talks on what’s coming in the near, mid and long term.

Much of Considine’s talk consisted of giving delegates some background on the congressional origins of prenotification and assuring them the final interim rules for customs prenotification (originally due out Oct. 1) would be out soon.

“The rules are in the final stages of being approved before they go to Congress,” Considine told delegates.

“My hope is that they will be published in the federal register by the beginning of December.”

Considine said rule makers have been taking into consideration the resources already available to the trade when it comes to electronic reporting.

“We will be implementing the new rules on a staged basis,” he said.

This is in part due to the fact an electronic manifest reporting system has yet to be developed for trucks, he explained.

CBP is aiming to have such a system in place, as a pilot project in fall 2004, he said.

“But I can’t say that’s for sure,” he added.

“Ideally, a truck driver would be able to download and print his manifest or transmit information from a truck stop, but we’re not there yet.”

Considine added the BRASS program (Border Release Advanced Screening and Selectivity) will be wound down, while PAPS (Pre-Arrival Processing System) will take precedence on the northern border.

“We’d like to see the use of BRASS decline, but we like PAPS a lot,” he said.

The first reduction in BRASS usage was seen with the implementation of reporting requirements for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated shipments into the U.S. as of Dec. 12, Considine said.

“All FDA regulated shipments have been removed from BRASS,” he explained.

Winding down the BRASS program shouldn’t be a problem, he said, because CBP sees very few BRASS shipments now anyway.

As for the FDA reporting system, CBP inspectors have been authorized to act in the place of FDA inspectors should they not be available 24/7, Considine said.

Under questioning he reassured delegates that FDA shipments reporting via the Automated Brokerage Interface (ABI) will get the benefit of the doubt if they reach the border and don’t yet have a confirmation number for the FDA, at least during the so-called “soft enforcement” period of four months.

“If you report on time through the CBP system we’ll know it,” he said.

“If the FDA hasn’t processed you yet, we’re not going to hold you up.”

The reassurance met with no little skepticism on the part of carriers in attendance, who questioned the efficiency of brokers receiving faxes from their shippers and neglecting to enter the relevant information into the ABI system in a timely manner.

Asked whether the FDA was actually prepared to receive and process the volume of information and phone calls expected as of Dec. 12 (rumours have persisted that only five additional employees have been hired to work in the new FDA call-in help centre), Considine was only able to assure carriers that the CBP would carry out its own duties with the utmost efficiency.

(Shippers can also report to the FDA directly through the FDA Web site and thereby receive a confirmation number immediately, but the site was not fully functional as of mid-November.)

And asked what kind of reporting would be required for FDA regulated shipments moving through but not destined for the States, Considine dropped what appeared to be a bomb for some carriers – that these shipments would also be required to meet the FDA’s advance reporting requirements.

Carriers in attendance also discovered they were not alone in being in the dark about how the FDA intends to implement reporting requirements when it comes to postal deliveries (think fruitcake through the Xmas season).

“I know it (food packages) counts,” said Considine, “but I don’t know how they intend to make it work.”

(Indeed some carriers commented the fruitcake wouldn’t be missed.)

Rick Dale’s presentation was met with substantially less feedback given the subject matter, mainly Canada’s eventual electronic reporting requirements, due to be implemented over the next several years.

CCRA has developed the automated commercial environment (ACE) for truck manifests but has yet to establish a firm deadline.

The model for vessels will be implemented however April 19, 2004, Dale said.

Phase Two of Canada’s ACE project, to cover air and rail cargo manifests, is destined for completion sometime in 2005, said Dale.

Phase Three, for highway cargo should be set for implementation by 2008, he said.

“We’re also looking at Internet options, that could be used by anybody, in terms of filing requirements,” he said.

Dale said CCRA will be looking at developing targeting tools similar to those used by U.S. Customs when it comes to identifying higher risk cargoes for further inspection.

Of bridges…

Four Ontario bridge authorities had the opportunity to address OTA delegates on what’s in store at their facilities in the near, mid and long term, during a session on U.S./Canada border crossing developments moderated by the OTA’s manager of policy development, Stephen Laskowski.

Accolades from delegates in attendance, however, were few and far between – not to mention some sniping between panelists who clearly felt the talk afforded them an opportunity to woo delegates for their traffic.

Ambassador Bridge

Thomas L. (Skip) McMahon, director of special projects for the Ambassador Bridge, started the ball rolling by giving a brief report on what Ambassador Bridge users have to look forward to at the Windsor/Detroit crossing over the next eight to 12 years.

In the short term the bridge authority plans to expand commercial plazas and improve road access to the bridge, McMahon said.

Plans include directly linking I-75 to the plaza on the U.S. side. The link is slated for completion in 2006, he said.

Improving access to the bridge on the Canadian side is also in the works, McMahon added.

“Even people in Asia know about the 17 traffic lights on Church Rd.,” he joked.

Improvements include a proposed Parkway route from the end of Highway 401 to E.C. Row.

Also planned is an expanded commercial plaza on Maiden Road, McMahon said.

As for keeping more primary customs booths open for commercial traffic there’s little the bridge authority itself can do, he pointed out.

“The (U.S.) government will just have to bite the bullet and keep booths open. And the Ontario and federal governments will also have to do their part.”

McMahon also spoke of the FAST placards issued to carriers of the Big Three automotive manufacturers to permit their use of a dedicated lane to avoid backups on Church Rd.

The point was a sore one for carriers, many of whom complained of not having access to the placards themselves, or of OPP officers refusing to let them use the dedicated truck lane leading to the bridge.

“The other day three of my trucks were turned back even though they were FAST approved,” said one well-known CEO.

“If one of my drivers had parked his truck across the highway and thrown the keys in the river I would have been hard pressed to discipline him.”

McMahon pointed out the bridge authority has little power over OPP enforcement polici
es or over who gets to use a placard and who doesn’t, but offered to try to help establish a placard system for FAST approved carriers who are not necessarily hauling for the Big Three.

Blue Water Bridge

Dan Elash, president and CEO of the Blue Water Bridge Authority crossing in Sarnia, spoke next, presenting that bridge’s plans for the near future.

Forecasts indicate the bridge will require several modifications to accommodate increased traffic, including the addition of three more (Canadian) inspection booths for trucks (there are currently seven) and 75 more secondary inspection spaces where there are none currently, Elash said.

Tollbooths should be increased to 11 – six for cars and five for trucks (there are now two for cars, two for trucks and one shared).

In order to accommodate increased traffic the bridge is also planning to almost completely demolish the buildings currently standing on its plaza on the Canadian side, Elash said.

“The only building left standing in the plaza will be the duty-free shop,” said Elash.

“All the other buildings will be demolished and rebuilt. We’re currently consulting user groups regarding this. And we’re considering longer term demands on the bridge.”

Also planned for is a truck compound, with its own Agriculture Canada building and Canadian Customs/brokers building.

The bridge will also be building a dedicated truck ramp connecting the Customs commercial plaza with Highway 402 eastbound, Elash said.

Improvements on local road connections to Highway 402 are also planned.

The whole project will take 10 -15 years to complete, Elash estimated, depending on traffic growth and funding.

“But we hope to have the dedicated ramp by 2005,” he said.

The FAST program will be implemented in dedicated customs booths Jan. 5, he said.

“The booths (three out of five) will be open 24 hours per day, five days per week, depending on which way you’re going,” he said.

And FAST approved carriers carrying FAST shipments will be able to use passing lanes to access the bridge, he said, thanks to the cooperation of the O.P.P.

“In the long term we hope to have a dedicated lane on the highway” he said.

Peace Bridge

Ron Rienas, general manager of corporate services for the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie/Buffalo, N.Y. was up next, with his bridge’s vision of the future.

Jointly owned by the Canadian government and New York State, the bridge is self-funded from its tolls, he explained.

Its main goal in the near and mid terms will be to increase capacity and reduce congestion.

On the U.S. side, the plan is to increase customs primary booth capacity from four to six booths, relocate tolls to Canada, relocate the duty-free shop and activate additional car inspection booths to reduce queues.

Rather than expand truck plaza capacity, the U.S. side wants carriers to arrive prepared at the primary booths, with only eight per cent of traffic begin referred to the secondary yard.

Rienas was skeptical about the U.S. approach but pointed out he is not in a position to do anything about it.

On the Canadian side, plans are to locate tools and ancillary facilities as far west as possible, to relocate primary and secondary Customs facilities including buses as far west as possible and relocate the Refugee Processing Centre.

Work for all of the above should be completed by 2006, he said. Rienas recommended truckers obtain EasyPasses to reduce time spent at the tolls. (There will be no toll increase in 2004, he said.)

FAST membership will also help speed up crossing, he said.

“We’re planning on establishing a bypass queue to primary booths at U.S. Customs,” he said. “The aim is to improve eastbound traffic to the U.S.”

Plans for a second bridge should be approved by the end of 2004, Rienas added.

“We hope to have a new bridge to expand our capacity by 2007,” he said.

Queenston-Lewiston Bridge

Last but not least came Brent Gallaugher, agency and relations security manager for the Niagara Falls Bridge Commissions, with his report on what’s in store for the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge.

Gallaugher said the bridge authority would like to do its part to help reduce truck queues along Highway 405. Improvements would include increasing the number of operational commercial processing booths from two to three.

He said this could be accomplished within 10 years.

Also planned for is an Express Lane for trucks on Highway 405 and a fifth lane on the bridge itself.

On the U.S. side, a fourth truck booth is being built at the Lewiston plaza.

The booth was slated to be operational in December, Gallaugher said.

As far as plaza expansion goes, the Canadian side will be getting a rebuild, but the U.S. side is up to authorities there, Gallaugher said.

“At least our changes will result in a shorter queue for U.S. bound traffic on the Canadian side,” he said.

Gallaugher urged carriers to speed crossing by joining FAST and PAPS.

“The whole future speed of crossings is dependent on carriers and importers getting involved in these programs,” he said.

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