The B.C. Transportation Ministry is backing plans to ease congestion at the Pacific Highway border crossing by designating land in Surrey for U.S. customs agents to inspect cargo inside southbound trucks.
In the pilot project, the focus will be on the preclearance of trucks originating in Canada, a move intended to chop waiting times at the crossing between Surrey and Blaine, Wash.
B.C. Transportation Minister Mary Polak said Sunday that the project is the culmination of talks involving the province, the City of Surrey and the governments of Canada and the United States.
Vic Toews, Canada's Public Safety Minister, signed a memorandum of understanding with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday to pave the way for the new border program.
"We're co-operating across governments. You will have U.S. border patrol doing their inspections on Canadian soil in a dedicated part of Surrey," Ms. Polak said in an interview.
"It is never simple to have cross-jurisdictional work going on, so it is quite a big step to launch this pilot."
Truckers driving south along the Pacific Highway currently must stop at the border and clear customs before resuming their trips on Interstate 5 in Washington state.
"Ever since the U.S. instituted much stricter security regulations after 9/11, many people on both sides of the border have developed plans for preclearance and, in this case, it is about trucks," Ms. Polak said.
"You can speed things up in the trucking industry, and time is money. Any way that truckers can expedite the movement of goods means it costs them less to transport."
The six-month test will begin soon, and if it turns out that the changes do speed up the movement of goods, then the preclearance program could become a permanent feature at the Pacific Highway crossing. Overhead lighting will be expanded and new signs are slated to be installed at the Pacific Highway site.
A second phase of the pilot project will introduce cargo prescreening to the Peace Bridge border crossing between Fort Erie, Ont., and Buffalo, N.Y.
Once U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials finish their inspections, trucks would travel through a fast-track lane at the border. U.S. preclearance of passengers at major Canadian airports has reduced waiting times for air travellers entering the United States, according to government officials.
Louise Yako, president of the B.C. Trucking Association, said improving border efficiency is crucial for truckers who must adhere to rules that limit hours of work. "We welcome this and other initiatives aimed at streamlining customs and border procedures and will be watching carefully to ensure it contributes to those goals," Ms. Yako said in a statement.