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Border crossing should be hassle-free during Games

Revised estimate shows only one-tenth the number of cars crossing daily



It looks like driving across the border for the 2010 Olympic Games may be hassle free after all.

A new Washington State study has downgraded the number of cars expected to cross per day at Games time to 200 from 2,000.

The change came after Olympic organizers released their ticket sales plan, which showed that only 4 per cent, or 48,433 tickets, would go to the U.S.

"In the early planning we thought possibly 40 to 50 per cent of the tickets would be sold to the U.S.," said Hugh Conroy project manager for the Whatcom County Council of Governments, which carried out the study.

"But now it looks like rather than be a busy summer day (in traffic volume), it is going to be a busy winter day."

The council is the legislative branch of Whatcom County government.

Conroy said the council wants to make sure that Olympic traffic is handled well, as there are likely to be future travellers amongst those who cross, and it's a chance to test new flow systems.

"We see this as an important travel flow we would like to accommodate," he said. "It is very high profile and so we hope to test some systems that we hope will improve travellers' experience for the long term.

"With the Olympics we want to make sure our travellers' information systems are working as well as they can because we potentially will have people unfamiliar with the area travelling."

Mike Milne spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) said the new estimates represents a more realistic traffic pattern for Games time.

"The revised estimates of 200 vehicles a day is well within our ability to move that traffic without incurring any undue delays," he said.

"The good news is that this is happening in winter, which is traditionally the least busy time to travel in, so these revised estimates are really good news for international border crossers."

There will also be in place some new technology to deal with travelers, said Milne.

Each port of entry will be enabled for Radio Frequency Identity Devices (RFID). These are identity cards like the NEXUS, the new enhanced driver's licence and the new passport card.

Once scanned the information immediately pops up on the agent's computer, speeding the crossing time up by cutting out data entry and also making the border more secure.

"We have been planning this for several years now, we know it is coming and we want the story to be about the Olympic competition in Canada not about delays at the border, so we have done a lot and we will continue to do a lot to make sure that is the case," said Milne.

The new border crossing numbers do not take into account people that may want to come up for the free events around Games celebrations, or those with tickets from a sponsors or who might fly into Seattle for the event.

But, said Conroy: "That number is probably not a game changer."

There may also be some unusual border traffic flow times if ticket holders must make it to Vancouver in time to get morning buses to Whistler for alpine and Nordic events.

The U.S. is planning on increasing staffing levels and will have 10 lanes open at the under-construction Peace Arch crossing at Games time.

Canada is also working on a comprehensive border-crossing plan said Shakila Manzoor, spokesperson for the Pacific region office of the Canada Border Services Agency.

"We are also ensuring that travellers coming for the 2010 Winter Games do not face unnecessary delays at our border," she said. "We have a solid operational plan for the 2010 Winter Games and this is based on managing the increased movement of persons and goods into Canada."

She could not comment on how many cars Canada expects to enter the country due to the Games, nor on the Whatcom study.

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