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.

It’s now running only a handful of times each year. That doesn’t make it essential, in our book.

Even those infrequent stops in North Hudson would end with an amendment to the U.S. immigration reform bill added by Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. His bill would shorten the distance from the border that such checkpoints could be operated from 100 miles to 25 miles. North Hudson is about 80 miles from the Canadian border.

The Border Patrol sporadically runs a similar checkpoint on Interstate 91 near Hartford, Vt., which is the one that got Leahy’s attention. If his bill becomes law, the North Hudson and Hartford checkpoints are done. He has New York’s congressional delegation on board with his plan.

The Border Patrol says no foreign terrorists have been caught by the roadblock in North Hudson, but lots of drug and alien smugglers have, though the agent who addressed Essex County said he couldn’t give specifics on major arrests.

We object to halting all traffic on an interstate highway to search for suspects. Police have other options for tracking down criminals that are safer for the general public.