Posted online at 5:35 p.m. Friday More than 7,000 people have obtained the new enhanced Washington driver’s license that can be used instead of a passport to cross the border into Canada. And there are thousands more who want one.
The state Department of Licensing announced Friday that Washington’s new “super” driver’s license is now officially recognized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security as an adequate form of identification for travel into Canada by land or sea.
By June 1, 2009, a U.S. passport, an enhanced Washington license or some other document that is acceptable to federal officials will be needed to come back into the United States from Canada. Washington is the first state to develop an acceptable alternative.
State licensing officials are looking to expand the number of offices that can issue the special licenses. The supplemental transportation budget that was signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire on Tuesday included money to open three more offices in addition to the 11 that now can issue the enhanced license.
One will be located in Mount Vernon, and another in Bellevue. The location of the third has not yet been decided, but it might be in Eastern Washington or in an urban community along the Interstate 5 corridor, said licensing spokeswoman Gigi Zenk.
Zenk said the volume of calls about the license is greater than expected. The license is available by appointment only. The Parkland licensing office is the only one in the Tacoma area that can take such appointments. The next-closest are in Lacey and West Seattle.
“Sometimes we’re booked out weeks in advance,” Zenk said. “We’re still receiving over 200 calls a day. We have 7,000 of these out on the street, and we have thousands of appointments on the calendar.”
Washington began issuing the enhanced licenses in late January. The license costs $40, which is $15 more than a regular license. Both are valid for five years.
The new license has an RFID (radio frequency identification device) chip that allows guards at border crossings to swipe the license over a reader and call up detailed identification information.
Several other states and Canadian provinces are modeling their own licenses after Washington’s program.
The enhanced license, a single piece of identification that denotes citizenship and identity, was an outgrowth of the 9/11 Commission and the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Washington state and British Columbia officials were eager to get something in place due to the volume of traffic at the border, as well as to prepare for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.
The Washington enhanced driver’s license alone isn’t good enough to get you back into the country if you are returning by air. Only a U.S. passport is acceptable to Homeland Security if you’re landing at an airport.
What started as a pilot program is now full-fledged, but participation is still voluntary.
Joseph Turner: 253-597-8436
How to get an enhanced license
Call: 1-866-520-4365 for an appointment to get a license.
Where to go: When you call, officials will route you to the closest office that provides the enhanced license, and they’ll tell you what documents to bring.