Industry Issues: Clock ticking on new Windsor border crossing
September 1, 2007
The Windsor-Detroit Corridor accounts for 28% of Canada-US merchandise trade. Many regions in Canada depend on the efficient movement of goods and people through this corridor. This includes not only ...
The Windsor-Detroit Corridor accounts for 28% of Canada-US merchandise trade. Many regions in Canada depend on the efficient movement of goods and people through this corridor. This includes not only Ontario, but also Quebec (in 2004, an estimated $5.7 billion of Quebec’s merchandise exports to the US transited through this corridor). But, the road to a new, second border crossing at North America’s (if not the world’s) busiest gateway for land trade at Windsor-Detroit has been a tortuous one – almost as tortuous as navigating the 16 stop lights on Huron Church Road. Are we getting to the end of the road?
In all my years in this business, I have never experienced an issue – despite broad agreement that fixing the problems at Windsor is a national priority – where politics at the national, provincial and local levels have been so pervasive, complex, frustrating and downright maddening. The process has been mired in a swamp of missed deadlines, mixed signals, marginal announcements, NIMBY mentalities, Michigan intrigue and political morass. Oh, there was also 9/11, US and Michigan politics and a whole lot of self-interest.
It was nearly five years ago now, on September 22nd, 2002 that then Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, and then Ontario Premier, Ernie Eves, announced with all the appropriate urgency, a $300 million commitment for infrastructure investment for a medium-term solution in Windsor. A Joint Management Committee was given 60 days to develop an action plan. On Nov. 25 of that year – bang on two months from the initial announcement – the committee released its report to the public containing the so-called Nine Point Plan. Then all political hell broke loose, and within the next year or so, the Nine Point Plan was dead. In the period since then, it’s not that nothing has been happening. The list of developments and pseudo-developments is long. The following list is just a smattering.
On March 10, 2004, the federal and Ontario governments, officially announcing the demise of the Nine Point Plan, launched the Let’s Get Windsor-Essex Moving Strategy, which included some minor local infrastructure improvement. In an effort to get things on track, at a meeting on Dec. 17 of that year, the Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and the US Secretary of Homeland Security announced at a meeting in Detroit that a decision on which new crossing would be built would be made by the end of 2006. Two months later on Feb. 15, 2005, when the governments announced the EA process would be commencing, that deadline was pushed back by a full year to the end of 2007. (Although in a March 18, 2005 press release, the two governments were still saying they expected the preferred corridor would be selected by the end of 2006, with the EA to be completed by the end of 2007).
And, three weeks before that announcement, “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, a New York City consultant hired by the City of Windsor released his report and recommendations. A new round of public consultations was launched in March of 2005 and on Apr. 21, the governments announced a commitment to further modest construction projects and to study elements of the Schwartz report.
By October 2005, eight alignment alternatives under consideration within two corridors were eliminated. In November, another four alternatives were eliminated from further consideration including the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership’s so-called Jobs Tunnel and the Ambassador Bridge’s twinning proposal. On Sept. 6, 2006, the Canadian and Ontario governments announced the start of a foundations investigation study leading to a better understanding of bedrock stability where a new bridge could be located.
During this period, I was forecasting that while I hoped I was wrong, it could very well be 30 years before we saw a second crossing in Windsor. Then in November 2006, Canada’s Minister of Finance, Jim Flaherty, unveiled his Advantage Canada strategy, in which he committed to developing the funding strategy for the new crossing (which was contained in the 2007 federal budget and amounted to $400 million) and to ensure that the crossing is in place by no later than 2013. Indeed, Budget 2007 stated that the bi-national planning process “will recommend a location for the new crossing by mid-2007.”
Finally, on Feb. 1 of this year, the International Bridges and Tunnels Act received Royal Assent, establishing a legislative framework to protect the national interest for safety, security, and the efficient movement of goods and people, and to promote competition. This law will apply to the new crossing for the Windsor-Detroit Corridor. So, with the end of the year now just over the horizon, the clock is now ticking. Let’s hope this is one deadline our governments will meet and that once the preferred project is announced that the politicians from all levels of government accept the report’s recommendation and get on with the job of building it. We’ll be watching with anticipation.
– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.