Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 Legacy

The real world has a way of messing up the best laid bureaucratic plans. Whether it is a world economic melt-down or a terrorist attack, no advance planning can ever deal with the consequences because they are never expected in the first place. Models can never be built for events that can never be foreseen no matter how hard the planners try.

On this, the anniversary of that horrific terrorist attack, we in North America now understand that we were brought into the real world of terrorism to which we innocently believed ourselves to be immune.

I had worked on a file in London, England for my previous employer and seen how security there had been upgraded because of IRA threats. In fact, there were two incidents of bomb threats near where I was working, one a block away near the Law Courts, that made me nervous about taking the underground again.

I remember being in the Soo exactly one year after the 9/11 attack and debating whether I should chance crossing two international bridges that day to return home or waiting for one more day just in case.

How many times have you cursed security checks at the airport or been asked to remove your shoes and belt at the departure gate because you happened to be the random selection on the flight? Have you ever caught yourself checking out the other passengers and wondering...

All of this is leading to this interesting story I read this morning in the Niagara Falls Review:

  • "Life after 9-11
    'We have never recovered' from that day

    In the days and weeks after that terrible morning in September 2001 when jet planes full of innocent travellers crashed into New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a lonely farm field in Pennsylvania, then-president George W. Bush and other politicians in the U. S. and Canada appealed to shocked and confused citizens to set their fears aside and return to their everyday routines.

    Go to work. Go shopping. Take the kids to a ball game.

    After all, the terrorists weren't just attacking buildings, people were told; they were attacking our way of life.

    Eight years later, it's anything but business as usual in communities all along the world's longest undefended border...

    Border crossing figures for the past decade show just how much things have changed.

    The Niagara Falls area is home to three international bridges - Queenston-Lewiston, Rainbow and Whirlpool.

    In August 2001, the number of vehicles crossing the three bridges combined was 1,170,237.

    The figures drop steadily every August after that. Last month, there were only 740,228 crossings.

    It has been the same story at the Peace Bridge, between Fort Erie and Buffalo.

    It saw 845,160 cars and 3,728 buses cross during August 2001. Last month, 569,406 cars and 2,654 buses made the mile-long transit over the Niagara River.

    In the years leading up to 9-11, cross-border traffic and trade climbed, mostly as a result of the implementation of the Canada-U. S. Free Trade Agreement and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

    "After 9-11, the whole culture of the border changed," says Ron Rienas, general manager of the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority.

    "Before 9-11, you used to be able to cross the border simply by making an oral declaration (of citizenship).

    "Not anymore. Those days are long gone and won't be coming back."

    Rienas, who worked as a municipal planner before he was a bridge manager, says the decline in cross-border traffic has had a negative economic impact on Fort Erie and other border communities.

    Ironically, fewer vehicles crossing the bridges didn't translate into faster crossing times. In fact, the opposite happened.

    As border guards spent more time inspecting vehicles and scrutinizing personal documents, the time needed to get from one side of the Niagara River to the other started to increase.

    At its worst point in 2002 and 2003, bridges in Niagara Falls and Fort Erie regularly experienced long lineups of trucks waiting to cross the border. In some cases, trucks were backed up for several kilometres along the QEW, a situation that caused serious safety issues.

    Even as the number of vehicles crossing the border declined, tens of millions of dollars were being poured into projects to reconfigure the approaches to the bridge, move buildings and increase the number of customs booths -an effort to speed up inspections and better accommodate traffic flows.

    The reconfiguration of the Canadian side of the Peace Bridge cost $42 million.

    "All of the changes you saw happen on the Canadian plaza of the bridge are a direct result of 9- 11," says Rienas.

    As potential terrorist targets, security at the bridges was stepped up, too.

    "It used to be international bridges were like any other bridges, as far as security was concerned. That's not the case anymore," Rienas says.

    Arlene White, executive director of the Binational Tourism Alliance, is all too familiar with the problems at the border. And she's just as familiar with the myths.

    White and her agency have taken a leading role in trying to educate people about the facts about crossing the border and in lobbying governments to take steps to break down barriers without compromising security.

    She is quick to point out that there have been improvements at the border in recent years. However, there are still times when there are needless delays and "inconsistencies" in the way travellers are processed through customs checkpoints.

    "Perception is an issue," says White. "Every time somebody has a difficult time at the border, they tell people or it hits the media and people think, 'Why should we get the proper I. D. if we're only going to get hassled?'"

    Despite the problems that exist today, Thomson, Rienas and White each say they're optimistic things will eventually rebound.

    "It's going to take some time, but I think it will happen," says Thomson. "We're hoping that over the next five years things are going to progressively get better."

And that is what has bothered me about the border debate for so long. It has been a phony one in which we are being fed stories in order for a few unknown people to achieve a political objective.

Eight years later and the best that can be said is:

  • "We're hoping that over the next five years things are going to progressively get better."

Look at our region and how we have suffered. The platitudes from politicians and bureaucrats about us being the most important crossing in North America and that our region is a priority for massive Government investment are designed to mock us rather than solve a problem. It is a farce already and completely predictable when a politician drops in to saya few words.

Spending mega-billions on a DRIC project..I am sure that will happen after the Minister of Finance just said:

  • "Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the federal government will run deficits until at least 2015 -- two years longer than originally forecast.

    He said it will be a tough road to getting Canada black in the black, but added the Conservatives will not raises taxes or cut transfer payments to the provinces.

    Flaherty also said Thursday afternoon that the deficit for 2009 will be over $5 billion more than originally thought -- moving up to a projected $55.9 billion, from $50.2 billion...

    "While Canada is showing signs of a fragile economic recovery, returning to balanced budgets won't be easy, he told an audience in Victoria, B.C.

    "It will require decisions of government that won't always be popular or pain-free," he said in a prepared speech. "It will require a lot of saying 'no' to pet projects and special interests."

Oh why worry, P3 companies can find the money, just as they could NOT in the BC Port Mann bridge project which had to be saved by the Government or it would have collapsed.

I am sure that investors will come rushing in after the Standard and Poor's rating of the Blue Water Bridge was downgraded by two notches and its outlook called "Negative." Or will a huge Government guarantee of profits through a "shadow tolls" arrangement or other variation as is being proposed for the DRIC road allow them to make a profit of billions for 30 years at taxpayer expense?

Does it take an S&P comment, "significant reductions in traffic volumes," before Sean O'Dell and Minister Baird will admit the reality that is happening here and elsewhere?

Look at the numbers above in the Niagara area. What makes anyone believe that the numbers will increase here to justify the waste of billions on a DRIC project because of, primarily, the auto downturn and the collapsing tourism market----Eddie's air cargo mind's eye vision!

The issue is clearly not capacity...our border concern is that the numbers are too low! Nor is it security and redundancy thanks to Senator Kenny's lack of concern about the DRIC bridge delay and now, the "floating bridge concept."

Our issue is traffic flow! Four truck booths at a cost of a few million of private dollars eliminated truck back-ups without spending hundreds of millions on a useless Schwartz/Francis Horseshoe Road.

We do not need to spend billions of dollars. There are other much less costly efforts that could be taken to reduce border thickening as the many reports have demonstrated over the years. As the Niagara article pointed out:

  • "Ironically, fewer vehicles crossing the bridges didn't translate into faster crossing times. In fact, the opposite happened.

    As border guards spent more time inspecting vehicles and scrutinizing personal documents, the time needed to get from one side of the Niagara River to the other started to increase...

    tens of millions of dollars were being poured into projects to reconfigure the approaches to the bridge, move buildings and increase the number of customs booths -an effort to speed up inspections and better accommodate traffic flows."

But we still have the same problems, problems that have not been tackled the way they should have been. I explained to you why with the graphic the other day from the Lufthansa report.

Our border 9/11 legacy is the desire to do whatever it takes to wipe out a private company's business for political reasons even at the expense of our entire region.

We have become the victims of the terrorist attacks as well.

There was no need for the high unemployment in our area, the foreclosure of so many homes, the suffering of so many, the need for our best and brightest to have to leave town to find a job

No, the problem could have been solved, years before, and the construction just about completed to tide us over as our automotive industry collapsed. We could have been the leader in distribution, which Eddie is now trying to use in order to further his career but with an unrealistic solution.

Instead, more DRIC delays and litigation that can stop everything cold for decades. Now that is bureaucratic planning for you when events and consequences are never understood at the start.

As I wrote before

  • "One of my better BLOGs had to do with the second Cropsey hearings and the description of how the Ambassador Bridge changed over the years from being a bridge that could handle the passage of cows to the one handling the most traffic between Canada and the United States.

    •"there was an off the record discussion about the history of the Ambassador Bridge. During that discussion, Dan Stamper talked about the early tolls on the Bridge. Apparently there was a charge for cows using the Bridge although Stamper did not know how many cows actually crossed over.

    Just think about that and fast-forward 80 years until today. That same Bridge that could be used by cows is now the major border crossing between Canada and the United States carrying by far more traffic than any other bridge and yet is only at about 50% capacity. I have Blogged before about how many studies have said that the Bridge would be jam packed by this date and yet it still can handle millions of vehicles more without any problem.

    What it tells me is that the Ambassador Bridge people know how to run a bridge to handle the volume of traffic that crosses over. They have been able to do it without the need of building another bridge and are only looking at it today because their bridge is getting older and requires rehabilitation and because of the technology that requires another lane in each direction so that pre-approved traffic can flow smoothly."

    What has bothered me about the entire DRIC border discussion is the failure to recognize the significance of initiatives like removing Customs Clearance away from the border, pre-processing centres which have reduced the number of trucks going to secondary inspection dramatically, the FAST and NEXUS programs and the use of technology. There also seemed to be a failure to recognize until fairly recently that the issue with respect to the border is customs clearance and not more lanes across the River.

    The obvious reason for not having a big discussion about all this is that all if all of these programs were instituted then there would hardly be the need for a new DRIC bridge. There would no longer be a need to build additional capacity even forgetting that the Ambassador Bridge is about 50% to 60% of capacity now."

That is our 9/11 legacy.