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Border options narrow with final picks expected next year

WINDSOR, Ont. - The Detroit River International Crossing Project (DRICP) has narrowed its options for a new bridge crossing, truck inspection plazas and access routes on the Windsor and Detroit sides...


WINDSOR, Ont. – The Detroit River International Crossing Project (DRICP) has narrowed its options for a new bridge crossing, truck inspection plazas and access routes on the Windsor and Detroit sides of the border, with final choices likely to be previewed at the end of the year and a final decision on all three components of a new international border crossing made by mid-2007. Construction would be completed by 2013.

All the options – which include three possible bridge locations, three truck and Customs staging and inspection areas, and five Canadian access routes from Highway 401 to the border – are located in a rather narrow corridor skirting Windsor’s west side. These are the final selections, whittled down from as many as 15 announced in June 2005 by the Project, composed of officials and technical experts from Transport Canada, the U.S. Federal Highways Administration, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the Michigan Department of Transportation, whose mandate is “to improve the movement of people and goods” across the border, which handles 41 per cent of Ontario/U.S. trade.

Former possible crossings eliminated include the well-publicized and highly controversial Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) route, that would have connected Hwy. 401 along a rail corridor to a tunnel under the Detroit River. The DRTP was a private consortium made up of Canadian Pacific Railway and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS). Another was a plan by management of the privately-owned and existing Ambassador Bridge to twin its current span, which dates from 1929. Both it and the DRTP plans raised the ire of neighbourhood residents who worried that large volumes of truck traffic on new access roads would create pollution, noise and traffic disruption in their parts of the city. And the four-government DRICP agreed.

When those corridors were eliminated the DRICP then concentrated on Windsor’s industrial west end, which would link likewise to an industrial area in Detroit and eventually to Interstate 75, the main southbound route from Michigan through Ohio, Kentucky, and linking to points south and west.

The bridge options still in play all fall within a few kilometres of one another on the city’s extreme west side near Ojibway Parkway and Windsor Raceway. The inspection plazas are in adjacent areas. The access roads are also in the general corridor of the existing Highway 3 or Talbot Rd./Huron Church Rd. right-of-way from Hwy. 401 to the Ambassador Bridge.

But unlike the current approach roads which have more than a dozen signalized intersections the DRICP proposes variations on a six lane freeway either at grade, sunken or, for the first time, the possibility of a tunnel.

The government agencies will continue to environmentally assess those options, which go by residential housing and a strip of fast food restaurants and hotels along Talbot Rd. and Huron Church Rd. The freeway would then curve westward at the existing E.C. Row Expressway as it heads west to a truck and car Customs inspection plaza, followed by direct access routes to a new bridge crossing.

The tunneling proposal, for one, has generally been hailed by city residents and Windsor’s city council as the best solution, because it would reduce noise and truck pollution, and would be least disruptive by essentially segregating Windsor from its suburban cousin, LaSalle, located further west. Mayor Eddie Francis said that “the very least” that should be done is to tunnel any planned route. But he told Truck News he thinks the DRICP should have considered access routes further removed from existing neighbourhoods and busy Huron Church Rd., which remains a distinct gateway to the city from the Ambassador Bridge.

Hank Harwood, a member of a recently-formed citizens group whose members live near the corridor, said while the tunnel is least disruptive, “why can’t they tunnel in places which are not settlements, communities?” He said residents – perhaps hundreds of homeowners and businesses – would still have their properties expropriated. “Why are they so bent and determined that this route has to be in this particular spot, I don’t understand that.”

The answer was given in a handout to the public at one of several open houses this Spring set up to provide maps and have officials answer questions about the planning process. It states that the existing Hwy. 3/Huron Church road system “has been the main arterial” road to the border and that putting routes further west in LaSalle, which is less populated, “were found to be less consistent with existing and planned land use” and would “further divide communities as a result of additional property severance.”

But Mayor Francis also questioned how serious the DRICP was about the tunnel, and said he hoped, “that it’s not just thrown in there in the interim (to) quiet down and silence some of the fears that are being expressed.”

If in fact a tunnel is built it would be one of the longest of its kind in Canada, agreed Dave Wake, Windsor projects coordinator for DRICP. But he could not put a price tag on it although it would be in the billions of dollars.

“Tunneling is very expensive,” he said. “But if it has benefits then maybe that’s fine. People accuse us of looking to do it on the cheap and that’s not what we’re doing. We’re here to find the best solution, something that works for Windsor, something that works for the nation, and international trade that comes through here.”

Whether a tunnel, an at grade, or a sunken roadway is chosen, Wake said it will not be a segregated truck route but would share lanes with passenger vehicles. Nor would existing approach roads to the Ambassador Bridge and the bridge itself, be off limits to trucks. In fact a major interchange would be created to allow that option.

“We’re trying to build choice into the system” as well as redundancy in case of emergency or a terrorist attack, he said. Moreover, some 50 per cent of truck traffic originates locally and much of it might not even need to use the new bridge.

While Harwood, of the residents association, would like the new artery to be located further west of the present location because he and others in his group risk having properties expropriated or would otherwise be forced to live near the new route, a long-time critic of the border project was sympathetic but said the die is now almost cast.

Mary Ann Cudderman of Windsor West Community Truck Watch, said she felt “sorry for the people on Huron Church Rd. that didn’t get involved earlier” and said she doesn’t see DRIP “going back to try a solution,” the organization said in a statement. “Trucks are users of border crossings regardless of what form they take. As long as the solution developed results in freight moving across the border in a manner that is expedient and without negative impediment for trucks – we are happy to see another and find other options.”

Cudderman said that despite the group’s name they do not blame truckers, who in certain ways have been left out of the local debate.

“It’s not that we’re anti-truck or anything,” she said. “No, it’s just the way the trucks have been placed in the city that we’re angry about” because it has strangled local neighbourhoods. She sympathizes for truckers who are “just as much victims as we people are” because of the long delays they have had to put up with at the border. “If I was driving a truck too I would be so angry.”

Meanwhile, the province’s main truck lobby, the Ontario Trucking Association, which has also waited for years for a decision on a new crossing, at this point can only maintain its patience as it hopes for the best outcome.

“This is just another step in the many steps that are going to take place before we see a real solution,” the organization said in a statement. “Trucks are users of border crossings regardless of what form they take. As long as the solution developed results in freight moving across the border in a manner that is expedient and without negative impediment
for trucks – we are happy to see another step being taken.”


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