Drivers divided

by Ron Stang

WINDSOR, Ont. – A plan to move tollbooths to the same side of the Ambassador Bridge as the U.S. Customs facilities has met with a lukewarm reception from truckers.

On a blustery March afternoon, truckers at the Windsor, Ont. duty-free shop admit however that it probably will be better than the current system.

The bridge links Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich.

“Either way, here or over there, doesn’t make much of a difference,” says Don Nicholson of Kitchener, Ont., hauling for Dakota Logistics, in Milton, Ont.

“I think they’re creating another place of congestion,” says broker Steve Boudreau, of Vanessa, Ont.

Igor Sheptytsky, a Toronto driver for Caravan Logistics, thinks its a good idea. “Sometimes you come in and there’s lots of traffic piling up at the booths (particularly with cars),” he explains.

The plan is also designed to keep truckers more honest; scales at the booths will verify what truckers report.

“It will stop all the lies,” contends Jerry Davidson, hauling auto springs for Hamilton, Ont.-based Wide Range Transportation Services.

Until now, truckers have simply told toll collectors how much weight they were carrying.

“You can tell them you’re carrying 60,000 when you’re carrying 90,000,” Davidson says.

Dan Stamper, president of Detroit International Bridge, which runs the Ambassador Bridge, says some truckers can be deceptive.

“Most people are pretty honest. I think there are a few who, given the chance, will misrepresent the facts.”

The booths, which should be moved before the end of the year, will be located immediately after U.S. Customs.

“For the truckers, that stop (where the tolls are currently located) is on an uphill grade. It’s very difficult for some of those trucks to get started after they stop,” he explains.

The redesigned facility will permit them to stop on level ground.

Stamper disagrees that one point of congestion is merely being exchanged for another. He says that on the U.S. side, for example, after paying tolls trucks will simply pull out and be on their way.

“There won’t be a traffic signal or stop signs,” he says. “It will be a direct connection.”

The Canadian side already has no traffic controls after the Canada Customs’ booths.

The realignment is part of a major US$36 million upgrade to U.S. Customs. This includes increasing the number of truck inspection booths from seven to 10 and building a 22,000-sq.-ft. office. It will also double the truck parking; the current lot holds 80 trucks.

This expansion, ironically, follows a previous major expansion, on both sides of the bridge, in the early ’90s. Then, a new truck inspection ramp and facility were added on the U.S. side and Canada Customs upgraded its plaza.

Why more construction?

Traffic has ballooned since then, due to the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.

As many as 7,000 trucks a day cross the bridge, which saw 13 million vehicles last year, up from 10.8 million in 1998. n

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