INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE ADMINISTRATION
Despite more than 2 million crossings at the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge in 2013, wait times for southbound traffic declined by more than 30 percent.
The International Bridge Administration (IBA) chalks the gains up to cooperation with border authorities and information innovations.
Three new webcams now cover areas of the bridge where traffic backups extend on some busy days. A new bridge wait time webpage also forecasts potential delays for travelers.
"These things helped customers make informed decisions when planning their cross-border travel," said IBA General Manager Phil Becker. "It actually allowed the wait times to self-regulate."
The IBA reports 2,104,458 total crossings for 2013. This represents a 1.64 percent increase as compared to 2012. Statistics for the four main traffic categories include automobile traffic, which was down 1.5 percent; commuter fare automobile traffic, which was up 4.8 percent; cars pulling trailers, which was unchanged from last year; and commercial truck traffic, which was down 1 percent compared to 2012. Customers using the "Prox" commuter card made up 50.7 percent of crossings, using the discounted fare program.
The IBA reports that the 2013 total of 95,548 commercial truck crossings is the lowest annual total recorded since 1993 when 84,822 trucks crossed the span.
"We monitor truck traffic trends very closely, and in 2013 commercial trucks made up 4.5 percent of total traffic, with those tolls making up 30.6 percent of total toll revenue," said Becker.
"There could be any number of economic factors influencing the long slide in truck crossings that began in 2004 when 133,773 trucks crossed," Becker said. "U.S.-bound and Canada-bound crossings are fairly evenly balanced. Government statistics indicate that, despite the decline in truck crossing, the value of goods transported by truck across the bridge will show a marginal increase in 2013."
Pre-audit figures indicate 2013 toll revenue was $7.3 million (U.S. dollars), which is down $66,802, or 1 percent, from 2012. Toll revenue was 1 percent above 2013 budgeted revenue.
Tolls and fees collected at the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge are the only sources of funding for the operation, maintenance, and repair of the bridge and toll plaza.
The IBA does not receive any state, federal, or provincial funding for bridge operation, maintenance, and repair.
Nearly $55 million (U.S. dollars) will be needed for major repair projects on the 51-year-old bridge and toll plaza over the next 15 years.
Southbound wait times were down during the year - from 24 minutes in 2012 to just 16 minutes in 2013.
Northbound wait times were up slightly from 10 minutes to 13 minutes, likely due to the implementation of a requirement for 100 percent photo ID verification by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) in 2013.
"Achieving our 2013 goal to reduce overall wait times by 30 percent from 2012 was the result of a three-way partnership with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and CBSA, the government agencies who enforce national customs and immigration laws," Becker said. "The IBA had great support from CBP and CBSA staffs to minimize bridge wait times without reducing national security or customs and immigration law enforcement."
The three agencies intend to continue efforts to minimize bridge wait times to the greatest extent possible, he said.
Becker noted a number of other major successes in 2013.
A service life extension project for the 51-year-old maintenance garage was completed by IBA maintenance staff at a cost of $125,000, 60 percent below the cost estimated by engineers.
The project included repairing the existing building, new overhead garage doors, new entry doors, and exterior wall insulation.
"We really need a new maintenance facility but we do not have the $3 million to budget for the project, so our staff repaired the structure to get a few more years out of it," said Becker. "Our funding priorities are the project components that will allow us to better serve our customers: the toll booths and the administration building."
IBA staff also performed bridge girder retrofit work in August ahead of schedule at a total cost of $28,584 - a savings of $41,416 compared to the engineers' estimate.
The bridge authority is looking ahead to 2014, with major redevelopment projects slated for the U.S. toll plaza and the CBSA plaza, as well as a number of in-house bridge maintenance projects planned.
The toll plaza project is scheduled to start in May.
The project includes reconstructing the toll booths and administration building at a location approximately 150 feet south of the existing site.
The Portage Street off ramp and Easterday Avenue on ramp will be reconstructed to allow for the shift.
The maintenance facility was dropped from the project due to limited budget. The $7.3 million project is expected to be completed in late 2015. Construction will be staged to maintain unobstructed toll traffic throughout the project.
IBA also will be involved with the $41 million (Canadian) CBSA plaza reconstruction and expansion. That project is in the initial construction phase and construction is expected to be in full swing in 2014.
"It's going to be a busy year for construction and maintenance," Becker said. "But the IBA is committed to maintaining safe and smooth traffic flow across the bridge and through the plazas during the work."