Crossing between NY/VT and Canada (PQ/Montreal) - any info, tips or suggestions?

I am planning a jaunt from NYC to Montreal in about a month’s time, and I’m concerned that I’m not budgeting enough time for the border crossings. I would appreciate it if any Dopers who’ve done the crossing recently with first-hand data would correct my impressions below, and/or give any tips for a smoother trip.

My current itinerary takes me north through VT, crossing at Highgate Springs/St. Armand (VT 89/QC 133), and returning south through NY at the Champlain/Lacolle crossing (Autoroute 15/US I-87). My northbound crossing would be around 5:00-5:30pm on a Tuesday afternoon (7/31), and the southbound one the next day around noon (8/1).

My main concern is with the speed of crossing. I’ve budgeted about 20-30 minutes to cross in each direction, but all these warnings of congestion and long waits have me concerned. Then again as a New Yorker unfortunately well accustomed to traffic congestion at everyday crossings like bridges and tunnels, maybe the writers considered 30 minutes an unusually long time while to me it’d be par for the course.

My main time concern is with the northbound crossing, as I’ll be trying to make a dinner reservation in Montreal. If I get stuck for much longer than expected returning south, I’ll just get home later or slower. I’ve budgeted 30 minutes for a border crossing and 45 minutes for Montreal area traffic beyond what Google Maps gives me as a time estimate, which would get me to my hotel room 30 minutes before my planned meal time which is about a 10 minute walk away (plus time to check in and dump my stuff off in the room, I suppose). Raisonnable?

Since 2009: “Lots” of Paperwork / ID Checking Delays, or Not Really?
I’ve been to Canada many times, but not since 2004, and I’ve heard/read that the crossings have become much more scrutinized. In the back of my mind I sort of assumed the years immediately post-9/11 would have had the biggest “lockdown” effect, but apparently it took a bunch more years to kick in (2009). I used to cross over showing my NY State Driver’s License both ways, but now I understand I now need either a US Passport, an Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL), or a NEXUS card.

I have a valid US passport, so I have no sudden need to get additional paperwork for my trip. But I’m concerned about underestimating the traffic congestion at the border crossings. Both are described as among the busiest along the border. I’ve crossed at the Autoroute 10/I-87 crossing lots of times before and have no memory of a frustratingly long line - mentally I’m picturing about a 15-30 minute processing time - but again, that was between 1990 and 2004 and typically at night or on a weekend, not post-2009 and on a weekday at midday or during what might be rush hour.

NYS Enhanced Driver’s License: Not Any Faster?
In looking up whether or not it’d be worth it to get an EDL I found that the NEXUS program is kind of a personal EZ-Pass through the border checkpoints (via dedicated processing lanes), as it has a RFID chip and pre-screening and pre-clearance of a certified low-risk person. But the process of getting one involves 2 separate interviews with both the US and Canada and takes about 6-8 weeks total time to get, which I don’t have, so that’s off the board.

Meanwhile the EDL mainly serves as a way to avoid having to bring one’s passport, so there doesn’t seem to be any real point in me scrambling to get one now for expediency’s sake. There is an RFID chip in the EDL, but as far as I can tell it’s to speed up the agent’s paperwork checking, saving you about 15 seconds on average. You still get on the same line as the non-NEXUS folks. There is something called a “Ready Lane” for faster processing of RFID enabled document bearers, including an EDL, but apparently not at these two crossings (only at two in Buffalo, NY, one in Detroit, MI and one Blaine, WA).

So I’m not gonna bother, unless someone tells me why I should.

Impact of Vacances de la Construction (“Construction Holidays”)?
Finally, a border crossing traffic alert calendar tells me that the 2+ week period of 7/22 through 8/4 are the “Construction Holidays” in PQ which is the busiest vacation time for Quebecois. I won’t be crossing the border on a weekend, so I’m hoping that it being a peak holiday period might mean the midday commercial traffic will actually be REDUCED (just as even Manhattan traffic in NYC is noticeably freer for a few days leading up to a holiday long weekend). But border jaunts are surely a popular day trip activity for Quebecois too, so maybe I’ll get grief instead of relief.

I’ve only ever visited Montreal in the wintertime so I’d never heard of this holiday. Does it make for worse traffic in general, either at the borders or within Montreal or PQ Autoroutes?

Crossing on your way back shouldn’t be too long of a wait, I’d say no more than 20 minutes from personal experience, but probably less.

The way there, however, might be longer…I’d say closer to 30. You are going through at one of the worst possible times…but at least it’s a weekday. 5:00-6:00 PM on Friday afternoon is probably the worst. But I really don’t think it will get much more than 30 minutes. But I haven’t gone into Canada in a few years (not since they’ve had the new passport/EDL requirements,) so I don’t know what it’s like now.

It very much varies with the time of day and other factors. I’ve cruised right through with only one or two cars ahead of me going either way, and I’ve had forty-minute waits.

I do these crossings all the time, you should have no problem and I think you have budgeted enough time. If you are worried print out your hotel reservation, customs loves paperwork. I always budget 2 hours for border crossings but I am a tour manager, have 2 UK and 2 US residents, am driving a rental. I get to go to secondary inspection almost every time, this should not apply to you. Have a great dinner and a nice trip

If they had a line that said “I know I am going to secondary inspection” I would get into it every single time

CAPT

Whatever you do, don’t joke around. My brother was returning from Canadia with a car load of buddies. When asked if they had any drugs in the car, one of the guys quipped, “Sure, whadaya need?”.

They were found to be free of contraband, but that took hours of diligent searching, including removal of the rear bench seat.

Yeah, that was my recollection too - 15 minutes or so, 30 minutes in the worst case, but like you I haven’t done it since the stricter requirements were implemented.

Glad to hear that. I will be solo and on a motorcycle (unless it’s going to be thunderstorms all day long for those 3+ days) so if they check my luggage it won’t take very long :slight_smile:

WOW…

OK, I will keep my snide mouth shut! I don’t usually make light of serious situations but that is in fact the sort of joke I’d make if I were in the mood for making one. Which I will not be.

Here is the website that is updated at least once an hour with the latest wait times.

Per that page you can now get updates for a particular crossing sent to you via Twitter. There used to be a phone number with a recording but it looks like they phased that out in favour of the website and twitter updates.

On my crossings I’ve found that waiting in the lineups is sometimes onerous but I’ve never spent more than 5 mins with a customs agent and it’s usually less than one.

Have your passport in your hand (or close since you’re on a bike), take off your sunglasses and be prepared to remove your helmet if they ask. Problems at the border are rare.

The Lacolle crossing usually takes me at least 45 minutes of waiting (and a minute or so of actual inspection). One hint, even when you are ready to drive off, don’t put your sunglasses on until you are away from the inspection area. One border agent got extremely upset when I did so as I was leaving. “You are not allowed to wear sunglasses in the inspection area.” Most of the guards are quite friendly, but some are nasty. When I told one I would be spending 7 days in Boston, she said, “Why would anyone want to do that?” and in a very nasty tone, as though I must be lying. It was actually the same one with the sunglasses phobia.

Eeep. What time of day and day of week?

I’ll be wearing a full face helmet socthat will be interesting. I assume I’ll have to stop and remove it while they squint at my passport photo.

It’s a crapshoot because it all depends on how many cars are crossing the border ahead of you.

Here’s the secret the locals use: you get off at the I-87 exit for Route 11 East (heading towards Rouses Point). You drive a mile and a half down this road (just past Parker Chevrolet) and you’ll see a sign on your left for a border crossing (Route 276). Turn here and cross the border at this local crossing that never gets backed up with traffic.

When you’ve crossed the border, drive about a mile north and you’ll come to a road called Montee Guay. Turn left and drive a little over two miles to get back on the expressway (which is now Route 15).

Awesome, this is the sort of strategy I was hoping might be out there :). I’ll be taking Autoroute 10/I-87 only on my southbound return leg, though; I’ll be coming through Vernont on the northbound leg. But I assume the shortcut crossing works both ways?

Aha, it looks like I could take VT Route 2 over Grand Isle on Lake Champlain to get to this smaller crossing you mentioned… Awesome, thanks!

Today, around 11:00 AM, we were driving close to another border crossing (autoroute 55 / interstate 91) and there was a variable sign saying the wait (for entry into the U.S.) was 2 ½ hours. I don’t know why. Maybe the DHS alert level was orange, maybe there weren’t enough officers on the U.S. side, I don’t know if anybody knows.

The vacances de la construction period is, typically, a time of delays in both directions: lots of Québécois drive down to the States (coast of Maine, etc.) in that period, and drive back up here after a week. Of the 2 million annual border crossings at Champlain/Lacolle, about half a million occur in that 2-week period, but mostly on weekends. A Tuesday night shouldn’t be too bad for the northbound crossing.

Yes. I’m not sure where you’re coming from in Vermont but you’ll cross over to New York via the Veterans Bridge at Rouses Point. (Look to the right as you cross the bridge and you can see Fort Montgomery.) There’s a border crossing there in Rouses Point but I’ve never used that one.

What you’ll do is come off the bridge and drive to the intersection with Lake Street (there’s a little restaurant at the corner). Turn left and drive through town about a mile. You’ll come to a Stewart’s convenience store where you turn right. This is Route 11. Follow it for about two and a half miles until you reach the road I mentioned in my previous post (which will be on your right from this direction).