FORT ERIE, Ontario (AP) — U.S. customs officers began inspecting U.S.-bound cargo trucks in Canada Monday under a pilot program intended to relieve congestion at one of the border's busiest commercial crossings.
Authorities will watch to see whether pre-inspecting trucks on the roomier Canadian side of the Peace Bridge will reduce wait times and pollution-causing idling on the 86-year-old span between Fort Erie, Ontario, and Buffalo.
The bridge handled 1.2 million truck trips and more than $40 billion in trade last year, making it the third-busiest truck crossing on the U.S.-Canada border. The three-lane span also saw more than 4.7 million passenger cars, more than any other port of entry.
With the U.S. side of the bridge lacking space to increase capacity, lawmakers have for several years wanted to shift some inspections to Canada. But they faced a myriad of jurisdictional and other obstacles, including objections to armed U.S. officers working in Canada, which only recently armed its border officers.
"The reaction of most people was to throw up their hands and say let's forget about it, and we persisted," Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a news conference attended by Deputy Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Canada's minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, Steven Blaney. "We just had to keep showing people how important this was to our mutual economy. That's the bottom line here."
The test program is the second phase of a pilot called for in the Beyond the Border Action Plan signed by President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in December 2011. Phase 1 got underway in June at the Pacific Highway Crossing in Blaine, Wash., to test the feasibility of certain technology and procedures. The second phase will test the effect on wait times and border congestion.
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