Detroit/Windsor Bridge Battle Heats Up, Second Crossing In Jeopardy

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WINDSOR, Ont. –The trucking industry figures in a couple of high profile controversies in the ongoing battle between the privately-owned Ambassador Bridge and a proposal to build a publicly-owned bridge across the Detroit River.

In early February a US circuit court judge in Detroit ruled against the Ambassador Bridge for refusing to live up to an agreement to build a designated ramp for trucks coming from Canada. The ramp would have taken trucks departing US Customs to where they would connect to the Interstate highway system.

Instead the bridge cordoned off a lane on busy Fort Street in southwest Detroit, forcing trucks to use that instead.

The judge cited the failure to build the ramp as one of several agreed-to items which the bridge has not lived up to, as part of its role in the $230 million so-called Gateway Project.

The project, mainly finished, is a cluster of new ramps and interchanges intended to expedite traffic on the US side.

Instead, where the ramp would have gone, the bridge built a huge duty-free store and refueling plaza.

A Michigan Department of Transportation spokesman said the court decision was important because it will now remove trucks from neighbourhood streets.

The judge ordered the company to demolish the store and plaza.

But the bridge argues it had the right to make design changes. “The contracts for the Gateway Project expressly anticipated changes,” the company said in a statement after the ruling.

Meanwhile bridge management have repeatedly stated that the new public bridge, known as the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC), isn’t needed in large part because of Gateway Project improvements. The company stands to lose millions of dollars in tolls if a significant amount of traffic uses the new bridge.

In another matter, Centra Inc., the company that owns the bridge, has acquired the former Yellow Transportation (now YRC) depot in Delray, Mich., leading to speculation the purchase was made to prevent the DRIC bridge from being built.

A sliver of that land is where a ramp to the bridge would be located. In addition to owning the Ambassador Bridge, one of Centra’s many companies is Central Transport, which specializes in LTL shipping. Bridge spokesman Phil Frame said Central has consolidated trucks from other sites at the 175-bay Delray facility.

“Having more bays and doors available at a facility can translate into more flexibility,” he said.

The company had a 126-bay facility in suburban Romulus. Two of its customers -an auto manufacturer and a parts supplier -wanted to use that site.

“So the two things came together about the same time,” he said.

Frame said he understands “it seems” like the acquisition was done “to block the DRIC. But there aren’t a lot of (truck) facilities like this in southeast Michigan.”

Government authorities could expropriate the Delray land. Said Frame, “Well, it depends on whether they need it and all that. So we’ll just have to see what happens later on.”

Meanwhile, the bridge company has also tried to halt DRIC in two other ways. It has filed a request for a judicial review of a federal environmental assessment allowing construction of the bridge and Customs plaza in Windsor.

And it has offered to turn over “toll credits” to the cash-strapped Michigan government.

These credits -in this case $400 million worth of improvements done to the bridge by the company as a toll operator -can be used to unlock federal US highway funds.

But the bridge had one stipulation: none of the money could be used to assist competing projects including DRIC.

“We’re just asking them that they not use (the money) against us,” Frame said.

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) says the aggressive moves by the owner of the Ambassador Bridge have put the DRIC project in jeopardy.

“Political maneuvering in the Michigan Legislature is putting the future of the long-awaited second bridge crossing between Windsor and Detroit into doubt, creating the very real prospect that the bridge will not be built in the foreseeable future,” the association said in a release. ” There is therefore a very real chance that this summer the DRIC process will grind to halt and hope for a new bridge will fade.”

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