Tuesday, September 25, 2018Canada's Leading Online Business Magazine

Niagara Falls Bridge Commission

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Bringing two great countries together

We all know Niagara Falls as a natural wonder, attracting honeymooners, shoppers and tourists from around the world. The museums, boat tours, parades, upscale restaurant and casino make Niagara Falls a worthwhile destination for people of all ages. What we don’t often consider in the list of the region’s interesting qualities are its bridges. But without them—the Rainbow Bridge, Whirlpool Bridge and Lewiston/Queenston Bridge—Niagara Falls wouldn’t be what it is today.     

No other single factor contributes more to tourism growth, as well as export trade, than the three enormous linkages of concrete and steel. In fact, Niagara Falls crossings rank second only to Kennedy International as the busiest port of entry between the U.S. and Canada, with over 7 million passages per year.

Owners and operators of the bridges are the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission (NFBC), a board of eight commissioners—four from Canada and four from the United States. The NFBC was established in 1938 to finance, construct and operate the Rainbow Bridge, which opened in 1941. Their efforts proved highly efficient and thorough, leading the commission to assume responsibilities for the other two bridges.
The NFBC operates at its own expense to build and maintain facilities for Customs and Immigration functions on both sides of the border. The NFBC is self-supportive, largely through tolls and private-sector tenant leases.

Constant upgrades

Because maintenance is a big priority for the NFBC, they are constantly upgrading their facilities. The commission has spent more than $190 million over the past 15 years for repairs and upgrades. At the moment, Phase II of construction on the Queenston side—the Canadian side of the Lewiston/Queenston Bridge—is underway.  

“It’s a $77-million project to build new facilities for the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and a new building for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA),” says Lew Holloway, General Manager. “There will also be new construction and relocation of key plaza facilities and an expansion of primary passenger processing capacity.” Expansion indeed. The NFBC has already added five new commercial truck inspection lanes and will be adding an additional 10 lanes for automobile inspections.

A new Nexus lane will also be built for quick and easy border crossings. For those who are unfamiliar, Nexus is a trusted traveller program that’s administered jointly by U.S. and Canadian Customs agencies. Travellers submit their background information and the agencies do various background checks. Once approved, the traveller is called for an interview where his or her photo is taken for the Nexus card. The traveller approaches a customs booth and simply flashes the card to a remote card reader, where the information uploaded to a computer monitor in the booth and a customs officer usually waves them through in about 20 seconds! There is minimal interaction and the driver gets red-carpet treatment by Customs in both countries. The privilege costs $50 and lasts for five years.

“The completion of the revitalization plans for the Queenston Plaza will thoroughly enhance the bi-national trade and tourism relationship between Canada and the U.S.,” says Norma Higgs, Chairperson. “It will improve both commercial and primary vehicle clearance times through the utilization of the most advanced technology.”

The project will also give the CBSA the resources to process travelers in the most efficient, expedient and safest way possible. With help from Transport Canada, contributing $62 million, the entire project is scheduled to be completed within 18 months. In the meantime, the Lewiston/Queenston Bridge will not shut down. The NFBC is familiar with construction phasing and working with the travelling public. They are experienced in keeping things running smoothly..

The NFBC Tweets

The NFBC might be an old organization, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving into the 21st century. In order to communicate with driving travellers about the line-ups at each bridge, the NFBC started its own Twitter account to update users from home or on the road via smartphone. While the commission already has a 1–800 hotline that provides this service, they believe using online media might appeal to travellers who are always connected. It is an effort to enhance the crossing experience for automobile travelers and saving them travel time.

The account (found at Twitter.com/NiagaraBridges) will be updated every 30 minutes to an hour, but only when there are delays at the bridges. Followers will receive updates on wait times at the Rainbow and Lewiston-Queenston Bridges, allowing them to determine which bridge has the shortest crossing time.  

“We’re in the midst of promoting it now, but I believe as people become more aware of our Twitter account, it will be a great convenience,” says Holloway. “We’re always trying to improve service to the travelling public.”

Priorities

As an international commission, you might think each country’s priorities would be different. According to Higgs, it’s not that way at all. “It’s wonderful working together; our interests are pretty equal,” she says. “We’ve never run into any problems due to international relations. Really, it’s not a Canadian or American agenda, it’s a commission agenda to move people and goods safely across our bridges in the most efficient manor we can.”  

It’s true. The NFBC is a group with a common interest to keep people safe while crossing their bridges. After 9/11, they took it upon themselves to put a mass investment into security, spending $5 million on cameras, alarms, access control, staff training and various security devices. “Security is a high priority to us,” says Holloway, “and both governments are satisfied with what we have implemented at each crossing. The bridges are classified as critical infrastructure.”

Even if you don’t think about the security, engineering and design that has gone into making the Rainbow, Whirlpool and Lewiston-Queenston bridges safe and efficient, you can rest assured that the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission has everything under control. To them, their bridges aren’t just a means to an end; rather, they represent a significant investment into the relationship between the United States and Canada.

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