Office of Operations Freight Management and Operations

Executive Summary

The purpose of this study was to determine a benchmark border crossing delay measure for commercial vehicles. Seven ports of entry (POE) were surveyed – four on the U.S./Canada border and three on the U.S./Mexico border. Those ports of entry were Otay Mesa, El Paso, Laredo, Blaine, Ambassador Bridge, Peace Bridge, and Blue Water Bridge.

Toward that end, average delay times were calculated for each port of entry. The delay time represents the difference between the average crossing time and the free-flow crossing time. In total, for all seven ports of entry, the average inbound delay time was 16.0 minutes and the average outbound delay time was 8.1 minutes. (Inbound means traffic entering the United States. Outbound means traffic exiting the United States.) The average delay time for all northern ports in the survey, both inbound and outbound, was 9.8 minutes and for all southern ports in the survey, 18.0 minutes. The average delay time for all ports of entry, both inbound and outbound, was 12.4 minutes.

A Buffer Time and Buffer Index for each port of entry was also calculated. The Buffer Time is the difference between the 95th percentile crossing time and the average crossing time for all trucks. The Buffer Time, then, represents the "extra time" above the average that a driver must budget to cross the border and arrive "on time" for 95 percent of the trips. The Buffer Index is the Buffer Time expressed as a percentage of average time, i.e., the extra percentage of time that must be budgeted to cross the border. As such, the Buffer Index eliminates differences in the physical length of crossings and provides a standardized measure among ports.

The Buffer Time for all outbound crossings was 23.3 minutes with a Buffer Index of 164 percent. The Buffer Time for all inbound crossings was 43.3 minutes with a Buffer Index of 162 percent. These Index values are much higher than values for urban freeway systems studied in "Monitoring Urban Roadways in 2000," which indicates less reliable travel at border crossings.

The number of inspection/processing booths open at each port at any given time has a significant influence on travel times and often serves as a leading indicator of that particular variable. At many ports there appears to be significant variability during the day with respect to the number of booths open at any given time. Decisions with regard to how many lanes are open at any given time are not made purely with mobility/crossing times in mind and are not made by transportation agencies. Finally, to whatever degree mobility was a consideration in the number of open booths/lanes prior to the events of September 11, 2001, that level of consideration has lessened.

Other implications found are:

  • Crossing times at the Ambassador Bridge POE are clearly superior and more consistent than any other port of entry in the study. While, like other ports, inbound crossing times exceed outbound crossing times, the margin of difference is significantly narrower and more consistent. Further, lower crossing times are achieved despite the bridge having a consistently higher volume of traffic.
  • The performance of the three "truck only" bridges as measured as a function of the time/volume relationship did not differ significantly from those crossings where auto and truck traffic are intermingled.
  • It can be generally said that U.S./Canada ports of entry processed inbound trucks in less time and with less variability than did U.S./Mexico ports of entry.
  • The extent to which changes implemented as a result of the events of September 11, 2001 will affect traffic volumes and crossing times in the long term is not yet clear – but certainly the transportation system will be affected. Transportation agencies as well as companies that operate near the border will be challenged to operate as efficiently as possible and adapt to the changes
Table ES1. Performance Measure Summary
Crossing Average Volume Average Delay
per Trip (minutes)
Buffer Index
Ambassador Bridge Outbound 4,969 3.1 55.7%
Ambassador Bridge Inbound 4,587 7.5 65.7%
Blaine Outbound Not available 16.2 64.5%
Blaine Inbound 1,335 9.2 105.8%
Blue Water Bridge Outbound 2,030 1.2 46.8%
Blue Water Bridge Inbound 2,289 23.1 134.8%
El Paso Outbound 1,080 4.2 187.1%
El Paso Inbound 1,973 29.6 108.1%
Laredo Outbound 3,048 15.4 161.6%
Laredo Inbound 2,956 19.0 76.0%
Otay Mesa Outbound Not available 9.6 93.2%
Otay Mesa Inbound 1,886 28.6 83.7%
Peace Bridge Outbound 1,992 12.7 74.6%
Peace Bridge Inbound 1,990 13.2 265.7%

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