Students helping to conduct survey of border crossers

Members of the BPRI survey crew interview cross-border travelers bound for B.C. at the Lynden-Aldergrove port of entry. Photo courtesy of Whatcom Council of Governments

Western Today staff

Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute is working with the Whatcom Council of Governments to conduct a large-scale survey of travelers through the five border crossings along the Whatcom County and British Columbia border
(Point Roberts–Boundary Bay, Peace Arch–Douglas, Pacific Highway, Lynden–Aldergrove and Sumas–Abbotsford-Huntingdon).

The project is an initiative of the International Mobility and Trade Corridor Program, a regional cross-border planning coalition led by WCOG. The program involves U.S. and Canadian border security and transportation agencies, state and provincial transportation agencies, border area jurisdictions, U.S. and Canadian elected officials and private-sector entities.

“We already have good information on the numbers of vehicles crossing and how that’s changed over time,” said Hugh Conroy, IMTC Program Manager at WCOG, “but border planning and investments are better informed when we have current data on where people are going, the reasons for their travel, and other aspects of travel trends that we can relate to population changes, regional economic changes, and border-policy and operations alternatives.”

Western students working with the BPRI will be administering the survey at each of the five border stations through late July. Students are asking randomly selected drivers to voluntarily participate in an interview, which usually takes less than two minutes.

“We’re doing most of our interviews when cars are waiting in line anyway so most people are happy to answer the questions,” Conroy said. “When traffic is lighter and lineups very short, we ask drivers to participate in an area past the border inspection booths. To set up this project in a safe and efficient way, the help we’ve gotten from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Border Services Agency has been tremendous and is essential.”

The border travel survey project is primarily funded by the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the Washington State Department of Transportation and the British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. Additional funds are coming from BPRI and WCOG.

The last comparable border travel survey was conducted in 2007-08. In addition to the core questions about trip routes and purpose, this year’s questionnaire seeks feedback from drivers on how they use regional border wait time systems, including the message signs that transportation agencies have installed on border approach roads. Both Washington State and B.C. have made significant investments in these systems over the last several years. While the province and state periodically make adjustments to the systems to maintain accuracy, the survey is a way to check in with travelers and see who is using the systems and if the information is being communicated effectively.

Initial findings from this summer’s effort will be available in the fall. A second wave of surveying will be conducted in February to control for seasonal differences, and the final report and database will be completed by spring 2014.

More information on the IMTC Program can be found at http://theimtc.com/. To learn more about the Border Policy Research Institute, please visit http://www.wwu.edu/bpri/.