May 27, 2013

You can get here from there but it might cost you

The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

The quick response from northern states lawmakers bolsters the thought that the study won't happen this fiscal year, said Ken Oplinger, president of the Bellingham/Whatcom County Chamber of Commerce in Washington state.

But he thinks that due to the expensive border security measures that have been implemented since Sept. 11, the idea could make a comeback in the future unless other sources of funding not reliant on a border fee appear.

One of busiest northern border crossings — the Peace Arch — is located in Whatcom County. It connects Washington state with British Columbia. In places, the border is just farmland, with no wall or fence and grazing cows. About 12,000 people cross the border there every day, according to CBP figures.

Oplinger has two main concerns. The lesser is people who will refuse to pay the toll and thus stop visiting Whatcom County all together. His greater worry, however, would be any increase to the wait time at the border. He said border traffic has just fully rebounded to pre-Sept. 11 volumes, adding that on summer weekends the wait to enter the U.S. can be as high as two hours. He fears that adding some sort of mechanism to collect the toll would mean more waiting time.

Border fees, albeit local ones, already exist on the southern border. In Texas, local municipalities charge fees to use bridges that connect Mexico and the U.S.

For Kenn Morris, president of marketing research firm Crossborder Group Inc. in San Diego, the future of the border is in public-private partnerships, unless the government acts to improve ports of entry. For example, a private company operates and builds a port of entry, booths and roads, and charges a fee to recoup investments.

"I think that it's inevitable that more border regions use those tools and those who don't want to use it that's they're choice, but they shouldn't take the ability for other regions to at least look at that option," he said. "For those regions that want the ability to charge a fee, we need good analyses to create good policy."

Citing a 2009 University of Texas study, Morris said tolls at the border don't affect traffic flow negatively, but provide a source of revenue to build more border infrastructure.

At the nation's busiest border entry at San Ysidro in California, 50,000 vehicles and 25,000 pedestrians go north from Mexico every day. For the past few years, Congress has sent chunks of money to improve the infrastructure. In his last budget, President Barack Obama asked for $226 million to continue the improvements.

In the meantime, people face hours of waiting every day.

"People are tired of waiting," Morris said.

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