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DRIC group puts forth plans for new border access road

WINDSOR, Ont. - The Trucking industry's on-board. And so are a raft of companies that ship their goods by truck, like the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, the Automotive Parts Manufacturers...


A NEW APPROACH?: The proposed access road will take trucks from downtown Windsor and put them on a costly below-grade road linking Hwy. 401 with a new border crossing. The DRIC group has the support of industry, the province and the feds. But the City of Windsor says the proposal's not good enough.
A NEW APPROACH?: The proposed access road will take trucks from downtown Windsor and put them on a costly below-grade road linking Hwy. 401 with a new border crossing. The DRIC group has the support of industry, the province and the feds. But the City of Windsor says the proposal's not good enough.

WINDSOR, Ont. –The Trucking industry’s on-board. And so are a raft of companies that ship their goods by truck, like the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, and automakers like Chrysler Canada and Ford.

All that remains for the new proposal by a four government consortium -known as the Detroit River International Crossing

(DRIC) team -to build an access road and new bridge between Hwy. 401 and Detroit is “crossing the T’s and dotting the I’s,” said Dave Wake, the Ontario Transportation Ministry official who heads up the province’s planning office on the new border access route. But officials from Ontario, the federal government, Michigan and Washington, also shouldn’t underestimate one other player -the City of Windsor.

While virtually all industry groups lauded the latest version of the roughly 10-kilometre road unveiled in Windsor May 1,Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis called the so-called Windsor-Essex Parkway, a six-lane sunken freeway with 1.8 km of extended tunnels providing for more than 240 acres of parkland on top, not good enough and accused senior levels of government of building the road “on the cheap.”

While government officials said the $1.6 billion route (at $168 million a kilometre) would be the most expensive roadway in Ontario’s history, the mayor said the latest incarnation of the plan fails to address several proposals the city had earlier made through its so-called GreenLink plan for more extensive tunneling in a bid to protect adjacent neighbourhoods from noise and exhaust fumes from the international trucks that will use the freeway.

In fact, the mayor said, the length of seven of the overpasses will not change at all from DRIC’s last proposal made in 2007. Of the other overpasses, one will be reduced by 50 metres, two gain 180 metres and a new tunnel will add 220 metres, for a total of 1,880 metres of tunnels, the equivalent of the lengths of three CN Towers. But the city’s GreenLink -drawn up with assistance from world-renowned experts such as Sam Schwartz, the former traffic commissioner of New York City who now has an international traffic consulting firm, and Parsons Brinckerhof, a world leader in tunnel design -would create substantially longer tunnels, some 1,220 and 1,020 metres in length, for a total of 3,830 metres.

DRIC officials said the plan is virtually complete and it expects to call tenders later this year for a construction start late in 2009. But DRIC officials also said an environmental assessment process continues and they are open to receiving citizen input “to help us refine” the concept even further.

That led mayor Francis in several interviews and on open line radio to say “the campaign continues” to oppose DRIC’s plan. The city is waging a multi-media effort to have residents send postcards to senior government officials and push for a road that more resembles GreenLink. “No real change!” and “It’s not too late to support GreenLink” proclaimed a double page ad in The Windsor Star two days after the DRIC news conference.

In front of the Holiday Inn where the DRIC announcement was made were some 150 construction workers, along with pieces of heavy equipment, there to back the DRIC proposal.

Jim Lyons, president of the Heavy Construction Association of Windsor, said his group had been given a “heads up” about the announcement and rallied the group of contractors and workers. But the mayor said the announcement essentially amounted to an “ultimatum” to paint the City of Windsor as “us against them, us against industry.”

Nevertheless, Francis said, he was representing the citizens of Windsor “to fix the mistake that was made 50 years ago” when a truck route was created through the heart of the city’s west end on surface streets to the existing Ambassador Bridge, affecting residents’ way of life and in particular their health.

He noted that medical authorities “have made the link” between truck emissions and health ailments like lung and heart disease. “We’ve got kids going to school with backpacks with air testing equipment in them,” he said, referring to an ongoing survey of the region’s air quality. Windsor is reputed to have one of the worst pollution problems in the country.

But DRIC’s Wake suggested the greater use of tunnels by Green- Link would really not improve air quality. He said his study team went further and measured end-to-end tunneling and “found very, very minor improvements in air quality for a very small number of people immediately adjacent to the corridor.”

While the city and senior governments are at odds on these issues, industry almost universally backs DRIC’s position.

Lyons of the construction association said the plan does in fact incorporate some of the city’s GreenLink plan, by adding longer or new overpasses. He added that after years of study and various earlier proposals -which originally included a surface expressway – it’s time to start construction.

“This is the most significant infrastructure proposal that we have ever seen in Ontario,” he said. With construction activity down in Windsor owing to a slump in the auto industry and one of the highest unemployment rates in Canada, Lyons said “obviously we’re thrilled” by the fact 12,000 jobs will be created over the four years of construction.

One of those construction workers in front of the Holiday Inn was Judy Saunders of Windsor, who drives for Di Cesare Trucking. She said the Parkway “should be a go because it’s going to create a lot of work for everybody.”

Noting she hauls asphalt, Saunders said not only will the access road create jobs but there will be work on new roads that cross it and other infrastructure such as the new park system that will be on top of the expressway.

The Ontario Trucking Association didn’t issue an immediate endorsement, probably because senior officials were away on business. But Wake said the OTA has supported previous incarnations of the route.

“We certainly have backing from the OTA,” he said.

Steve Ondejko, president of Onfreight Logistics in Tecumseh, outside Windsor, with a fleet of 50 trucks shipping a variety of commodities, called the announcement, “welcome news to get this thing moving.”

Ondejko said he appreciated the city’s fight for a better roadway but “what’s the best they possibly can (get) and what the economics are, are probably two different things” and suggested the city wasn’t living in the real world. “Understand that that’s the way the business world is today, it’s tough out there, and you’re not going to get everything you want, so understand and move on.”

Gary Hillier, senior business analyst with Cole International – Ambassador Brokerage, said that he backed the Parkway.

“From what I’ve heard so far I’m in favour of it.” He said a state-of-the- art access road and crossing will complement the electronic data filing implemented over the past half-decade. “This crossing has been on the cutting edge with the electronics, with all the new initiatives (by government Customs authorities) and the brokers have been behind it all the way.”

Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, called the Parkway “great, absolutely wonderful” noting the large financial investment. “I don’t see how anybody could not be completely pleased and ecstatic over this, and if someone isn’t completely pleased and ecstatic than they’re being extremely greedy.” •


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