WINDSOR, Ont. — The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge is applying for permission to allow a wider number of hazardous materials substances to be trucked across the more than one-mile link between Windsor and Detroit.
Up to now, more dangerous HazMat shipments have been restricted to the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, which has several daily crossings. The Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron, 90 kms north, also allows those HazMat transfers with restrictions such as hours and escort vehicles.
Ambassador Bridge management did not respond to requests for an interview. But a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) suggested the application might have to do with the fact the new $260-million Gateway Project – which links the bridge seamlessly to a series of freeways and which has a designated truck road and ramp – was completed last year.
“I’m going to assume (it’s) because of the changes that the Gateway Project brought about, meaning direct freeway access,” MDOT’s Rob Morosi said.
With Gateway “there had been some changes primarily with the routing of trucks not going through the neighbourhood anymore, having their own designated ramp, which obviously played into the factor of reviewing (the bridge’s) application,” he said.
The plan, which is being endorsed by MDOT, would allow flammable and combustible liquids, as well as corrosives, to be carried across the structure, with some provisions such as escort requirements. Currently flammable and non-flammable, non-poisonous, non-toxic compressed gas and poisonous gases (toxic by inhalation) are allowed, as are flammable solids, and oxidizers and organic peroxides. Explosives, restricted now, would continue to be restricted.
But a chorus of opposition has delayed the timeline for public comment, which was to have concluded Jan. 31, and which now has been extended indefinitely.
Morosi cited specific concerns of Detroit bridge area residents in the city’s Mexicantown or Hispanic community. “We haven’t decided when the public meeting will be,” he said, which likely will require translating documents.
But it could be as long as 18 months after the public comment period ends before a decision is made.
Canadian officials are also concerned they were kept out of the loop.
Windsor Fire Chief Bruce Montone said that since his department is tasked with leading the Canadian response to any bridge HazMat emergency, and “my first concern is we need to be consulted.”
Montone said he wasn’t “telling them what to do, I’m just saying where’s the discussion? We have certain expertise that we can bring to the table and offer in terms of thoughts and ideas.”
Windsor West MP Brian Masse, co-chair of a federal all-party committee on border issues, said the bridge lacks proper infrastructure to carry dangerous hazardous materials. He said that at the Blue Water Bridge, there are specific spill containment areas.
“Right now if we have an accident on the Ambassador Bridge, even our general spills from our cars, they’re running into the river,” he said.
The connecting roads leading to the Ambassador Bridge from Hwy. 401 – Talbot Rd. and Huron Church Rd. – are designated HazMat routes. Under the Michigan proposal, the Windsor-Detroit tunnel, would currently is allowed to handle some hazardous materials, would ban all hazardous materials.
“The tunnel is inherently most vulnerable to hazardous materials due to the limited ability of vehicle occupants to avoid toxic fumes,” the MDOT report says.
Currently trucks carrying all forms of HazMat between Windsor and Detroit can use the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry. Ferry vice-president Gregg Ward said the ferry carries 40-50 trucks a day, the “two main categories” being flammables and corrosives.
But Ward said his concern is that because the bridge is privately owned, it means “the state doesn’t inspect it, so they can’t even make that assumption that nothing will happen when they don’t even know what the condition of the bridge is.”
The new Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), a bridge that will link Windsor’s new border highway to Michigan interstates, still years away from opening, would be designed to carry all forms of HazMat.