Border battle still brews as government site revealed
August 1, 2008
WINDSOR, Ont. - The new Customs plaza linking an extended Hwy. 401 to a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit will have 103 secondary inspection spaces for trucks. This compares to about a dozen at t...
WINDSOR, Ont. – The new Customs plaza linking an extended Hwy. 401 to a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit will have 103 secondary inspection spaces for trucks. This compares to about a dozen at the off-site inspection plaza that currently exists in Windsor, a few kilometres off Huron Church Rd. from the Ambassador Bridge.
The plaza would also be constructed so it could be expanded to meet increased truck capacity, Mark Butler, a Government of Canada transportation department spokesman, said at a news conference.
“We’re looking at (the plaza) not just for today but tomorrow and the technologies that the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) would have in the future. So we’re going to be looking at a capacity that would have to expand for extra trucking.”
The 53-hectare plaza was part of a federal announcement about the location of both it and a longsought new bridge, made here by federal Transportation Minister Lawrence Cannon and national Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day.
The plaza would be located close to the Detroit River and near the end of the existing E. C. Row Expressway in the city’s industrial west end. The bridge would be almost immediately northwest of the plaza connecting to an area of Detroit known as Delray, also heavily industrial.
The closest US freeway would be Interstate 75, the north-south mid-American route running from Sault Ste. Marie to Florida. A US Customs plaza would be constructed in Delray.
The bridge and plaza location would be about three kilometres southwest of the Ambassador Bridge. The US side of the Ambassador Bridge is currently undergoing a $170-million reconstruction, known as the Gateway Project, in part to streamline connections from such freeways as I-75 and I-96. It’s to be finished in December, 2009.
Despite the Gateway Project, US and Canadian transportation authorities say a new bridge is needed to meet future capacity projections as well as provide redundancy in case of emergencies.
For its part, the Ambassador Bridge Company is planning a new six-lane bridge immediately west of its existing span. This is independent of the four-government consortium known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project, which is planning the new down river bridge, plazas, and connecting roads to Hwy. 401 and I-75.
Government officials say the new bridge and Canadian plaza are the “technologically and environmentally preferred” locations because they are least disruptive to residents and the environment.
The government doesn’t have an exact timetable to build the bridge and plaza (US authorities would be responsible for the US plaza). But it expects environmental approval by fall of 2009. It will take four or five years to design and build the bridge and plazas.
Meanwhile, construction on the connecting access road between the existing end of Hwy. 401 and the new bridge, to be known as the Windsor-Essex Parkway, is expected to start “as early as 2009,” the government says. A final decision on the location and design of the $1.6-billion, 12-kilometre connector is expected this year.
While government planners this spring presented a near-final plan for the six-lane sunken freeway that will have 11 tunnels totalling almost two kilometres to provide considerable green space above for area residents, it is still “finetuning” the route after hosting public meetings as late as June to obtain community input.
The City of Windsor has been a bitter critic of the Parkway plan, and has offered its own professionally-designed so-called Greenlink proposal, which would more than double the amount of tunneling. The city wants more above-ground green space to lessen pollution and create more viable neighbourhoods. It is considering legal action against the DRIC plan.
The new bridge would cost between $800 million and $1 billion and each plaza between $150-$200 million.
Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon stressed his government is pushing for a quick start on the project. He told reporters it’s the government’s “number one” national infrastructure priority because of the importance of the Windsor-Detroit corridor to the economy of Canada and the US. “Since we have been in power we have put a full court press on this project,” he said.
Trade that crosses the corridor is in excess of $122 billion each year or about 28% of all commerce between Canada and the US. Since implementation of the Canada-US Free Trade agreement in 1989, trade has tripled and “is expected to continue to increase over the next 30 years,” a government briefing paper says.
Cannon said a new crossing will not only be good for the southwestern Ontario economy but for a wide swath of the country. He said the bridge “takes in a lot of the commerce that flows from Quebec and Atlantic Canada. This is how you get into the heartland of the United States and this is where the commerce takes place.”
The new bridge will also help alleviate back-ups at the Ambassador Bridge. Public Safety Minister Day said studies have found that, with truck deliveries geared to just-in-time manufacturing, “one hour of delay at the border runs up costs of about $430,000.”
Conservative MP for Essex Jeff Watson, who also chairs the government’s auto caucus, said the announcement represents a commitment to the southern Ontario auto industry by adding “greater capacity and predictability to our supply chain.”
The trucking industry welcomed the announcement.
Ontario Trucking Association president David Bradley called it a “major step forward” during “a long and at times frustrating political process.”
He said the plan reflects “a reasonable balancing of the local community’s needs, the trade community’s needs and the economic needs of the region.”
Meanwhile, the Ambassador Bridge, which could lose tens of millions of dollars in vehicle tolls once a new bridge is completed, has threatened a lawsuit against the government process. But Cannon was nonplussed. “If we stopped every time there was an obstacle, I think that the DRIC process would have been stopped a long time ago.”