DETROIT, Mich. – As passing trucks honked, officials from the State of Michigan and US federal highways department last month announced the long-awaited opening of three freeway ramps that will effectively take truck traffic off of...
DETROIT, Mich. – As passing trucks honked, officials from the State of Michigan and US federal highways department last month announced the long-awaited opening of three freeway ramps that will effectively take truck traffic off of Detroit neighbourhood streets. One ramp has trucks and car traffic moving directly from northbound I-75 (Exit 47 B) and the others will be from southbound I-75 and eastbound I-96 (shared Exit 47 C) to enter the Ambassador Bridge and Canada.
The ramps were actually completed three years ago, but wrangling between the Detroit International Bridge Company (DIBC), which owns the bridge, and Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), resulting in court action, held up final construction of an interior bridge plaza road connecting the ramps to the bridge itself.
According to Victor Judnic, Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) senior project engineer for the so-called Gateway Project, without a government road connecting those two points, federal money would not have flowed.
“If you didn’t maintain the integrity of the agreement, Michigan could lose the federal funds,” he said.
Most of Gateway, which finally rang in at $258 million – a vast reconfiguration of older and new highways, ramps and an architecturally-stunning pedestrian bridge – was also completed in 2009 after construction began in 2007. The purpose was to streamline exiting and entering the Ambassador Bridge from this key junction of major interstates. In the original 2004 contract, the DIBC and MDOT were each to undertake distinct parts of the work.
But after construction began, MDOT accused the company of changing the configuration and building infrastructure not in the agreement. Finally, last March a court ruled against the company and ordered it to deposit $16 million into a special account, from which MDOT drew funds to complete the project on its own.
On May 15, a dedicated two-lane road for US-bound truckers was opened, connecting vehicles that had cleared the US Customs plaza onto ramps to Interstates 75 and 96.
That solved the problem of trucks heading into the US having to traverse local neighbourhood streets before reaching the freeways.
With the latest announcement, northbound, southbound and eastbound trucks from those same interstates heading to Canada also won’t have to detour through southwest Detroit business and residential areas, including having to stop for traffic lights and stop signs. For trucks coming from southbound I-75 and eastbound I-96 in particular, “they’d be on the eastbound (I-75) service drive, cross the freeway, go westbound – there were a lot of stop conditions,” Gateway project engineer Tia Klein said.
The opening of the ramps is a godsend for the local community, which has complained about truck noise, back-ups, and diesel fumes – and there have been accidents – over the years.
State district representative Rashida Tlaib labelled trucks the “number one issue” for residents and recalled a two-year-old being killed in a truck collision. The new plaza road still allows truck access to the Ambassador Bridge’s spacious duty-free store as well as fuelling facilities. They then enter tollbooths and a ramp to take them up to the bridge itself, with one booth dedicated for pre-paid tolls. There is some separation between auto and truck booths although both types of vehicles can use all eight booths.
“That helps separate the trucks and autos a little bit but that comes under the jurisdiction of how the bridge company wants to run their booths,” Klein said. He said surveys have found that 60% of truckers stop for duty-free. A slight reconfiguration of truck parking spaces has also taken place.
Truckers who had just used the ramps for the first time were excited about the seamless freeway exits.
Claude Laur of Taylor, Mich.-based Load One LLC, hauling auto parts to Bradford, Ont., said, “It’s not so congested, we don’t have to run all through the neighbourhoods. This has been a long time coming. I think it’s going to be great.”
Mark Currie, who has crossed this border for more than 30 years and drives for K & T Transport of Plaster Rock, N.B. hauling axles said, “We needed this a long time ago. Now if they can get it so they can get through Windsor without all the hold-ups at the lights that will even be better,” a reference to the planned new freeway and Windsor-Detroit bridge, a few kilometres south of the Ambassador Bridge. The freeway is well under construction.
“I can’t wait until it gets done,” Currie said. “It’s a lot better for the safety of the people around Windsor.”