WASHINGTON, D.C. – A so-called short or even medium term solution to the border traffic problems in Windsor may be something of an oxymoron, at least according to trucking industry insiders.
That’s because, even in the wake of the recently released Schwartz report, a million dollar assessment of short, medium and long term solutions to the Windsor border traffic problem bought and paid for by Windsor, the Canadian and Ontario governments, have failed to provide any clear indication of their short, medium or long-term plans.
Feb. 15 saw the governments of Canada and Ontario announce they were moving ahead with the environmental assessment phase of the new Windsor-Detroit crossing.
But the joint announcement by federal Transport Minister Jean-Claude Lapierre, and Ontario Transportation Minister Harindhar Takhar did not indicate which crossing option (out of five) the governments would opt for, never mind how they plan to resolve Windsor’s short and medium term traffic woes.
As for the Schwartz report recommendations – a bridge to the south of the existing Ambassador Bridge, as well as an approach that would give access to both bridges and the ferry crossing that would keep truck traffic off local roads even if built prior to the new crossing – the governments had little to say, aside from commenting that it will provide “valuable input” to their own process.
The announcement did say, however, that Transport Canada will provide further funding for a City of Windsor study to examine opportunities for rail rationalization and the development of an intermodal facility on city-owned lands around the Windsor Airport.
It wasn’t the response the trucking industry was hoping for.
Ontario Trucking Association’s David Bradley said as much during a recent speech to a Washington, D.C. trade group.
“Those of us who have been urging the federal and Ontario governments to get on with the process of deciding on a long-term solution to the border congestion crisis in Windsor can take some solace that things are moving to the next phase but the fact remains that even if everything goes according to plan, the environmental assessment phase will not be complete until the end of 2007 and a new or expanded crossing will not be opened until 2013 at the earliest,” said Bradley.
Bradley urged governments both north and south of the border to consider speeding up their environmental assessment processes as well as their decision making process.
Any new building project will have to satisfy three different acts prior to getting the final go-ahead – namely the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act and the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act, a process that could take at least two years, even if its runs smoothly.
“Maybe it’s time environmental assessment legislation in both countries was reviewed, to find ways to make the process more efficient, leading to timely decisions, without denigrating the environment. If we can’t get a bridge built in this day and age with the threat of terrorism and trade disruption hanging over our heads, what does that say about our governments’ ability to protect the interests of our citizens or to embark upon any meaningful plan for infrastructure renewal?” said Bradley.
OTA will be relentless in urging all levels of government to work at expediting the environmental assessment process, said Bradley.
“This is just another step in a very long process and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of continued vigilance to ensure that the federal, provincial and municipal officials responsible for getting this job done don’t let opportunities to expedite the process pass. OTA will continue to impart a sense of urgency to those working on the EA to ensure that it is completed as quickly as possible.”
Bradley speculated the Canadian and Ontario ministers were reluctant to respond more directly to the Schwartz report because “they are concerned about doing or saying something that would prejudice the bi-national process (being conducted jointly with the U.S. governments), which in turn could set off a number of law suits and tie things up further.”
Windsor city officials, meanwhile, are still in negotiations to get the governments to agree to help pay for a $200 million bypass road that would divert cross border truck traffic from residential streets. (The bypass road was one of the Schwartz report’s recommendations.)
“We’ve been negotiating with the governments for about a month now, and they’re reviewing our material, but it’s obvious time is not on our side,” said Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis in late February.
The bypass road could take up to three years to build, he added.
In the meantime, the governments are planning to hold a series of public meetings in Windsor as part of their environmental assessment phase for the five proposed crossings. The meetings start this month and are open to the public and private sectors, as well as community groups. For information on upcoming meetings as well as updates, visit www.partnershipborderstudy.com.