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U.S. shutdown not expected to cause border gridlock

Southbound drivers heading across the border into Blaine beside the Peace Arch.  - File
Southbound drivers heading across the border into Blaine beside the Peace Arch.
— image credit: File

Bellingham business leaders don't expect a partial shutdown of the U.S. government that began Tuesday to cause major slowdowns for cross-border travellers, at least not immediately.

Some Republicans in the House of Representatives have refused to approve a spending bill to keep government operating in a bid to dismantle the health insurance reforms led by President Obama.

The move has forced non-critical departments to largely shut down.

Bellingham Chamber of Commerce interim executive director Bill Gorman said the effect on Canadians heading south across the border will depend on how many – if any – U.S. Customs and Border Protection staff are deemed non-essential and cease work.

He expects regular traffic over the border won't feel any difference, but travellers needing to get a visa or make other applications could face longer waits.

"If it goes on for a while it will have a ripple effect because things will back up," he said.

Gorman was optimistic the political standoff could end quickly.

U.S. border offices are already running on reduced hours as a result of a previous budgetary dispute in Congress that began in March.

Gorman noted that hasn't caused any major trouble at the borders or lost revenue for Bellingham retailers, adding business remains strong.

If anything, he said, the May 23 collapse of the Skagit River bridge on Interstate 5 actually provided a net lift for Whatcom Country merchants, because it made it more difficult for visitors from B.C. to drive further south for several weeks.

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