Traffic still low on area bridges

James Neiss/staff photographerThere was no backup at the Rainbow Bridge earlier this month as Canadians were allowed to enter the US with proof of COVID-19 vaccination.

NIAGARA FALLS — While the Canadian and American governments continue to ease restrictions and requirements to cross the northern border, officials with the Niagara Falls Bridge Commission say travelers have not flooded local crossings.

"In the last couple of days we saw an improvement in U.S.-bound traffic, but little to no difference going Canada bound," Bridge Commission CEO Ken Bieger said Friday.

Following the reopening of the U.S.-Canadian border to non-essential traffic in August, bridge officials say Canadian protocols requiring travelers from both countries to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test, and be fully vaccinated have apparently dampened the desire to resume land border crossings.

Bieger said since the border re-opened, traffic across the Niagara region's three bridges has been down 78% from pre-pandemic levels. The bridge commission CEO has suggested that the pricey cost of testing has kept traffic levels depressed and doesn't expect that to change until the testing requirement goes away.

"There was been a slight improvement (in traffic levels) recently," Bieger said. "But it's what we predicted. It is a slow process."

It'll likely speed up in a little more than a week.

The Canadian government on Friday announced that, effective Nov. 30, vaccinated Canadians traveling abroad for less than 72 hours will no longer have to provide proof of a negative COVID test when returning to Canada by land or air. The change applies to Canadians only. 

Bieger said that could bode well for the post-Thanksgiving shopping season.

"After Thanksgiving we may see an increase in Canadian traffic looking to come her to holiday shop and get gasoline," the bridge commission CEO surmised. 

The Canadian government has made no announcement about changes to testing requirements for vaccinated Americans traveling into Canada. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday the change would come in phases with the restrictions lifted for Canadians first.

“Of course we welcome action that removes obstacles to cross border travel for those fully vaccinated, but changes from both the U.S. and Canadian governments, have come at a frustratingly slow pace, in a disjointed manner, and with puzzling reasoning that doesn’t follow the science," Congressman Brian Higgins (D-Buffalo/Niagara Falls) said on Friday. "Today’s announcement is no different. The public is again left confused and waiting for more information. The same standard should be applied to all vaccinated travelers regardless of which side of the border you are crossing into or where you live.”

Higgins, who serves as Co-Chair of both the Canada-U.S. Interparliamentary Group and the Congressional Northern Border Caucus discussed the COVID testing policy with both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino during meetings in Washington, D.C. this week.

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