September 11, 2013

Editorial: End checkpoint on interstate

The controversial U.S. Customs and Border Protection checkpoint in North Hudson should be eliminated once and for all.

Agents are pressing the Essex County Board of Supervisors to support their roadblock between Interstate 87 southbound exits 30 and 29 southbound. But the Northway stop has been the scene of too much carnage and its usefulness is questionable, especially in light of the accidents.

Four people, including a little girl, died in an accident there in 2004, and dozens of people have been injured, including more than 50 bus passengers that same year. And in the early 1990s, a Border Patrol agent was run over and critically injured by a motorist at the checkpoint.

The problem is that the checkpoint halts drivers right in the middle of a highway where vehicles are traveling at 65 mph and higher. Even revised signage has not made this concept safe.

After the fatal crash, the National Transportation Safety Board investigated, deciding that the warning signs and flashing lights along the approach to the checkpoint gave insufficient information for drivers to know what to do and presented a confusing array of directions.

The Safety Board recommended that specific national guidelines for such checkpoints be drafted. Nothing happened on that, but the Border Patrol did increase signage and add speed bumps at the North Hudson site in an attempt to give more advance notice that traffic must stop.

At these checkpoints, Border Patrol agents stand in the middle of the lanes and question motorists. Anyone deemed suspicious is pulled over for a secondary inspection.

The chief Border Patrol agent who spoke to supervisors recently said the checkpoint is essential. What is interesting is that the interstate stop was operated almost daily until 2006, then, after the tragedies, the Border Patrol suddenly announced it would be used only when they had specific intelligence of some threat.

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