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Ambassador Bridge owners forging ahead with second crossing

WINDSOR, Ont. - Despite widely publicized plans by a four-government consortium to build a new bridge and access roads on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit border, the company which owns the 78-year-o...


WINDSOR, Ont. – Despite widely publicized plans by a four-government consortium to build a new bridge and access roads on both sides of the Windsor-Detroit border, the company which owns the 78-year-old existing Ambassador Bridge is moving ahead with its own proposal for a new bridge. The result could be two new bridge crossings.

The government consortium, made up of the Canadian, Ontario, US and Michigan governments under the name Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) Project, will announce this summer exactly where the new bridge, access roads and Customs inspection plazas will be located linking Hwy. 401 and Interstate 75 and providing a third crossing to the existing Ambassador Bridge and Windsor-Detroit tunnel at North America’s busiest border crossing.

But the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge is proceeding with its own with plans for a second span, located immediately west of the existing bridge – regardless of whether a new government bridge is built – fulfilling plans it had drawn-up in the early 1990s to expand bridge capacity by adding new vehicle plazas on both sides of the bridge and a new span.

“The plan for a second span goes back to 1992,” Skip McMahon, executive director of external affairs and community relations for the bridge, said. “This is not news.”

Yet, as the company continues to apply for various permits to allow construction to begin (it has received environmental approval on the US side and management is “very comfortable” it will obtain the same from Canada, McMahon says), the initiative is certainly being treated like news, and greeted in many circles – at least on the Canadian side – with alarm.

Windsor’s city council recently took a stand opposing the bridge’s plans for a second span, which would be six lanes compared to the current four-lane bridge and which the bridge’s McMahon says would effectively replace the existing bridge, with the older span to be used for service vehicles and emergencies.

“This will allow us to ensure that we could literally re-open the old (span) for a short period of time and get traffic moving.”

The bridge’s plan has also been denounced by people in the adjacent residential community known as Olde Sandwich Towne, and by the local NDP Member of Parliament, Brian Masse, who is his party’s critic on border issues.

What has them upset is what they claim is a plan by the bridge to buy a large swath of land in the historic neighbourhood for ramp access and a plaza for truck inspection.

This is set out in a map provided by the DRIC consortium. DRIC had earlier ruled out a second span for the Ambassador Bridge as unfeasible due to its impact on the community and the lack of “redundancy” if the bridge was hit by a terrorist attack or other catastrophe. In other words, two bridges so close together would both likely suffer damage. The DRIC’s bridge, by contrast, is downriver approximately 1.5 to 3 kilometres.

But McMahon said the DRIC map is nonsense. “We never ever had a plan on the table that took the property that DRIC lays out in their documentation,” he said. Rather, “we own all the property we need in Windsor to do this project.”

City councillor Ron Jones isn’t convinced. “When they talk about the footprint and the plaza that they need…it’s the bare minimum,” he said. “And I have every reason to believe that they’re going to expand their particular plans because of the property that they’re attempting to buy,” which he says extends several blocks into the heart of the community.

MP Masse says he has been told by the bridge company that they are no longer purchasing property. “They’ve said that they will cease and desist at this point in time.”

DRIC spokesman Mark Butler denies the map is false. He says the bridge would need about 80 acres for a new truck inspection area “within the plaza.”

Masse opposes the second span largely because, at six lanes instead of the current four, it will add extra traffic onto already congested Huron Church Rd.

“It goes beyond twining,” he said. “It doesn’t address the root problem, and the root problem is trucks getting from the 401 to (the bridge’s) present location.”

McMahon argues the solution to Huron Church’s congestion is the $300 million in federal/provincial money announced in 2002 which he says was specifically earmarked for improvements “to connect the 401 to the bridge plaza” but which has never been spent for that purpose. Instead some of the money has gone for various road widening and underpass projects located largely elsewhere in the city and indirectly related to border traffic.

The DRIC’s Butler says while Huron Church improvements were part of an early traffic plan “the improvements to Huron Church Road were not included in that final document.”


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