WINDSOR, Ont. — The Ambassador Bridge is suing the state of Michigan for denying it the right to allow trucks to carry hazardous materials (HazMat).
The ban has existed ever since the bridge was built in 1929 but a recent review upheld the prohibition and even added a new banned material – infectious substances – to other non-radioactive materials, such as explosives, flammable liquids and corrosives.
This followed a recommendation by staff in the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) that the ban be lifted. However, in 2014, MDOT director Kirk Steudle “reversed the recommendations,” the lawsuit says.
In the suit, the bridge complains that it is losing “million of dollars” in revenue in “decreased truck traffic” because trucks are redirected either to the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Port Huron – which allows HazMat transport – or to the Detroit-Windsor Truck Ferry, which similarly allows hazardous loads.
The crux of the bridge’s complaint is that Michigan has no legal jurisdiction over the bridge.
“MDOT’s jurisdiction is limited to state trunk line highways and does not extend to private property,” the suit, filed in US District Court, says. “The Ambassador Bridge is privately-owned and is not a state trunk line highway.”
It says the state acknowledges this. “MDOT admits on its website that it does not have jurisdiction over the Ambassador Bridge.”
The bridge company is also angry by what it considers unfair competition from the state. “The illegal and pre-empted NRHM (Non-Radioactive Hazardous Materials) restrictions cause international NRHM haulers to avoid the Ambassador Bridge and instead use its less-restrictive, state-owned, competing international bridges.”
The Blue Water Bridge’s American side is owned and operated by MDOT. MDOT also operates the American half of the Sault Ste. Marie International Bridge, which allows HazMat.
Bridge president Dan Stamper reiterated the company’s position in a statement to Truck News. He says truckers having to use the Blue Water Bridge is a major inconvenience.
Alternatively, they must “pay a ransom” to use the truck ferry. (The ferry charges $115 per crossing, which the ferry company says is the equivalent of the cost of driving to Sarnia and paying the bridge toll).
Stamper also called MDOT hypocritical, since it has “no issue with the highly-regulated and controlled cargo using the state and provincially owned crossing at Port Huron.” He says the Ambassador Bridge is the “safest route.”
In the lawsuit, the bridge also expresses anger that, despite MDOT’s claim of not having jurisdiction, “Michigan State troopers have detained NRHM haulers and issued citations after those trucks have exited from the Ambassador Bridge.”
While the bridge may have been unhappy that MDOT’s Steudle overturned his staff’s recommendations in 2014, Windsor fire chief, Bruce Montone, at the time, expressed relief.
Montone was alarmed should emergency crews be called to the bridge for an accident involving HazMat. The bridge has no water to suppress fires nor spill containment facilities.
In light of the recent lawsuit Montone said, “We have concerns relative to the bridge infrastructure and inability to protect it should something happen.”
The City of Windsor reported 67 traffic accidents on the bridge’s Canadian side between 2007 and 2011.
In January, the bridge carried more than 320,000 cars and 210,000 trucks, a 3% gain in trucks from the year before.
MDOT spokesman Jeff Cranston said the reason MDOT didn’t lift the ban three years ago was because of “safety considerations.” These include the bridge’s infrastructure, emergency response and accident history.