Local border funds sought from feds
Representatives from International Mobility and Trade Corridor (IMTC), led by the Whatcom County Council of Governments (COG) project were in Washington D.C. this week to push for some of the $40 million in federal emergency funds to relieve pressure on local borders.
"There are a lot of things that can be done and they're looking at opportunities," said COG planning manager Gordon Rogers. "One of the things they'll be arguing for is increased staffing. We need to make sure we get our share up there."
Rogers said the IMTC would also be encouraging the federal government to work with Canadian authorities on a perimeter security plan for the two countries and perhaps Mexico, Rogers said. "The concept is moving scrutiny away from the land border to points of entry so by the time you get them here, you already know who they are."
Finally, IMTC will be arguing for commuter lanes to be reinstated at local borders, whether it's as PACE being reinstated or a more high tech version replacing it. "When you add up the membership of all the other commuter programs in the country it doesn't add up to half of PACE," he said. "Perimeter security will take a while. In the interim we shouldn't tar down the processes that have been working so well."
Rogers said IMTC has been working with Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) on an adaptation of NEXUS technology for the Pacific Highway crossing, the PacCard System. The NEXUS system, a commuter pilot program in Port Huron, Michigan run jointly by Canadian and U.S. authorities was developed using dollars allocated by Congress in 1998 to expand PACE. It uses biometrics and radio frequency identification cards to more accurately identify program participants as they cross the border.
Rogers said the new system would address INS security concerns but was costly, and new issues of congestion pricing and "Lexus Lanes" came with it. "There are a lot of concerns about the cost of such a system for a family. It could be as much as $600 a year to get a family across the border."
"Until commuters have a system to move them effectively across the border, many are walking, and parking and transportation on the other side are emerging as new issues. "We have seen request for help from companies in the county whose employees are having a hard time getting to work," Rogers said. Representatives from businesses and local government will meet with the Whatcom Transportation Authority this week to look at bus service to and from the Peace Arch border and Point Roberts.
"We want to look at how we can provide public transportation at the border which would be a low cost alternative we could expand later," Rogers said.