Will we ever resolve the gridlock at the Detroit-Windsor trade corridor?

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Trade is like a river; it moves around all obstructions. For too many years now, the Windsor-Detroit corridor, which accounts for about 30% of Canada-US trade, has been viewed as exactly that: an obstruction to the efficient flow of trade in the most critical part of our nation’s trade network with the US.
The 83-year-old, privately-owned, Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor and Detroit is by far the busiest commercial crossing in North America and congestion when the economy was booming left both shippers and carriers complaining. It’s estimated that 1.3 million trucks trips are made annually over the bridge. The route to the Ambassador Bridge on our side of the border, which winds through Windsor, has been an object of scorn for decades for motor carriers fed up with being tied up in congested city streets with far too many traffic lights.
As you will read in our feature on automotive logistics, the crossing is particularly important to our automotive industry. The complex automotive supply chains see some car components crossing the border up to seven times. Windsor’s two largest employers are Chrysler and Ford. The latter estimates it has as many as 600 trucks a day crossing the border on the current bridge.
So it’s no surprise that the automotive industry is concerned about being so reliant on aging infrastructure in private hands when accessing our primary trade market. And it’s also no surprise the automotive industry, the trucking industry and Ottawa itself are solidly behind the proposed six-lane New International Trade Crossing (NITC) connecting Windsor and Detroit through a more viable route than the current one.
Yet the NITC could be in danger, yet again, of never being built. All thanks to the greed of one man: Manuel Maroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge.
Maroun is dead set against any plans that would allow the construction of the new six-lane public bridge and cut into the toll revenues currently generated by his aging four-lane span. He has spent millions on a campaign against the new bridge, proposing that he privately build a new bridge alongside his existing one instead. His lobbying efforts against the NITC have proved so effective at creating political gridlock across the border that Michigan governor Rick Snyder and the Canadian government had to resort to signing an “interlocal agreement” this summer to save plans for the NITC. Canada agreed to finance Michigan’s $550M portion of the project.
But that didn’t stop Maroun. A group called The People Should Decide, which is actually funded by Maroun and his family, managed to get a measure on the Nov. 6 US election ballot that could block construction of the bridge. The November 6 US election ballot will ask Michigan residents to vote on an amendment that would prevent the state from spending any money or resources on “new international bridges or tunnels for motor vehicles” unless approved by the voters – even though Canada is picking up the tab for the NITC and constructing the new bridge is expected to create 6,800 permanent jobs and contribute $630M each year to Michigan’s gross state product, according to a recent study by the Centre for Automotive Research.
The Conservative government in Ottawa is also having to resort to passing legislation to exempt the NITC from a slew of environmental laws in order to protect it from any other legal actions from Maroun. In mid October the Conservative government introduced legislation that would exempt the construction of “the bridge, parkway or any other related” from the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act, the Species at Risk Act and large parts of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. That’s likely to draw fire from supporters of the new bridge, such as Windsor MP Brian Masse, a New Democrat. But the Canadian government believes Maroun’s next move, if his ballot measure doesn’t work, would be to challenge environmental approvals so it’s moving to head him off.
Regular readers of this column know I don’t place much trust in the Harper government’s interest in environmental protection but on this occasion I believe them.
So one critical question remains: Can we outlast Maroun’s seemingly endless greed?

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With more than 25 years of experience reporting on transportation issues, Lou is one of the more recognizable personalities in the industry. An award-winning writer well known for his insightful writing and meticulous market analysis, he is a leading authority on industry trends and statistics.

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  • Greed???!!! Oh please. You know better than that.
    Did you ever ask the question why the Govenments haven’t acted to date? The answer is simple—they cannot!
    The Bridge Company has the exclusive right to build a bridge betwen Windsor and Detroit. That right was granted by Govenments themselves over 80 years ago!
    What is your suggestion to Moroun: to allow the Governments to put him out of business and not fight to protect his interests. Absurd!
    Your argument might make some sense except he is willing to build a second bridge at his expense with no risk to taxpayers. It would have been finished years ago but for Governments’ stalling.
    For you to support a bastardization of our environmental laws just to oppose Moroun is a complete disgrace.

  • We don’t need this new bridge!
    If Lou and some of his OTA cronies would quit writing all this propaganda about Matty Moruon and instead get in a truck and cross the Ambassador Bridge they might see that the bridge is just fine and that it’s the Customs Plaza’s on both sides that are the reasons for any delays.
    Spend a few million bucks and build some decent plaza’s and the problems solved!

  • I totally agree with Joe Blog Oct 21
    And now change the laws. Shame on Harper. i am one of his “leader’s circle” members.

  • MY GOD!!! have you people ever driven to the bridge during rush hour? When it takes 2 hours for the drive because the truck line-up starts at the first light!! WHY should we subsidize a billioniare? Is this the same man who spent a night it jail for breaking the law in Michigan? Or the same man who was given state money to build an on-ramp to the interstate BUT never built the ramp? Which caused the state to spend money again and do the job in under 2 months? Give your head a good whack on the nearest hard object, you will doing the world a favor.

  • Joe?? Moroun has “Exclusive rights” to build a bridge between Detroit and Windsor??? What planet are you from? That isn’t true.
    Let me guess…you have some connection to The ambassador bridge or Matty Moroun??? Yup , thought so.
    Little bit of info. for you, too, buddy…
    Moroun CAN NOT build a second span, beside his bridge….because…it isn’t feasible on the Windsor side (traffic ,road wise). Windsor and Canada will not allow it. Period. He has a bridge now and he has made billions . Circumstances have changed, Huron Church (in Windsor) is not a suitable route for truck traffic. Too many stop lights and it is used by Windsorites ,as well.
    I don’t blame Harper for doing what is necessary. Actually, I hope more than that happens and both goverments do something to shut Moroun and his mouthpieces up for good.