'Border Barometer' Assesses Border Performance for Key U.S.-Canadian Regions

By Rachel M. Teaman

Release Date: March 2, 2009 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A Border Barometer released by the University at Buffalo Regional Institute and the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University reports on several key border performance indicators for major regions along the U.S.-Canadian line, including trade flows, vehicle crossings, binational governance networks and even NEXUS enrollment.

The Border Barometer concludes that regional variation emerges as a key theme for policymakers to consider when thinking about border governance. But data also are missing from the report because they are not collected or monitored, are difficult to obtain or are not made available by the myriad layers of border management units. Other data are not systematically monitored to allow useful comparisons among border regions. Data gaps include border wait times, processing rates and measures of border security, such as regional comparisons of arrests made at borders.

"Understanding the porosity and infrastructure of our international borders is fundamental to the collective competitiveness of the United States and Canada, and to balancing border flow with border security," said Kathryn Bryk Friedman, institute deputy director, who presented these findings at a border conference in Washington D.C. last week. "The Border Barometer is a first step in this process, but our research efforts also reveal we have far to go."

"The Border Barometer is the culmination of a significant research effort to assess how well the U.S.-Canadian border functions as both a separator and a seam," said Donald K. Alper, director of the Border Policy Research Institute. "Presented in the brief are data obtained from more than two dozen border governance units and newly developed performance metrics."

Highlights of the report, which compared the Buffalo-Niagara Falls border with Detroit-Windsor and Washington State's Cascade Gateway, show key economic interdependencies between the two nations during a time of declined social interaction.

For instance, trade volume has steadily increased since the 2001 terrorist attacks, although growth in the Buffalo region significantly lags behind Cascade Gateway and Detroit-Windsor. All three regions are enrolling greater numbers of individuals in NEXUS, a program to facilitate low-risk border crossings. Cascade Gateway is having particular success with the program, and accounts for nearly half of all NEXUS cardholders.

A ratio developed by the institute and BPRI to compare the number of border-crossing booths to traffic flow for autos and trucks serves as a useful measure of border infrastructure. Analysis of U.S.-bound vehicles shows significant variation within each region based on border capacity and efficiency. For instance, truck-heavy crossings have high ratios, reflecting longer clearance processes.

According to the study, export-import ratios vary, with imports dominating Buffalo-Niagara Falls' trade during the last decade, while exports have been greater for the other regions.

The brief also examined border governance, giving Cascade Gateway high marks for its progressive Pacific Northwest Economic Region, which formed in 1991 to engage high-profile public and private partners in coordinating border activity across more than a dozen areas. Some Buffalo-Niagara Falls' binational networks were assessed as strong, particularly urban and civilian networks, including the World Trade Center Buffalo Niagara and Binational Tourism Alliance.

"These networks, the 'soft' infrastructure of the border, are integral players in implementing and shaping border policy," said David Davidson, associate director of the Border Policy Research Institute. "Across all regions, there is a need for stronger collaboration and coordination among the numerous governing units."

Indeed, while the layers of border management are important to managing the diverse and complex issues of border activity, the maze of administrative units also presents challenges to monitoring and providing access to border performance measures.

"Significant time and resources were required to obtain the data presented in this report," said Peter A. Lombardi, institute senior research associate and author of the Border Barometer. "Some of the data not seen in this report are maintained at levels that are too narrow or too broad to shed light at the regional level. For instance, border arrest data are provided only at the national level, perhaps due to security concerns."

The two institutes, as well as other members of a six-unit Northern Border University Research Consortium, propose the formation of a Border Performance Data Agenda to comprehensively identify border metrics and existing and new data sources, as well as develop print and Web tools to disseminate and monitor those indicators.

The Border Barometer was funded by the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade's Bordernet Initiative. For more information about the UB Regional Institute, go to http://www.regional-institute.buffalo.edu.

A major research and public policy center of the University at Buffalo, the Regional Institute plays a vital role in addressing key policy and governance issues for regions, with focused analysis of the Buffalo-Niagara region. A unit of the UB Law School, the institute leverages the resources of the university and binational community to pursue a wide range of scholarship, projects and initiatives that frame issues, inform decisions and guide change.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.