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Industry Issues: We can’t leave border traffic mess to future generations

The interminable debate over what to do (or rather what not to do) to improve the flow of truck traffic through Windsor and to speed transit times at the country's busiest border crossing, continues....

David Bradley

David Bradley

The interminable debate over what to do (or rather what not to do) to improve the flow of truck traffic through Windsor and to speed transit times at the country’s busiest border crossing, continues. It’s hard to imagine at this rate that the federal and provincial governments’ commitment to have a new, second crossing by 2013 – which in itself is too long to wait – will come true.

Recently, some people, including some with vested interests (which more and more its seems everyone involved in the debate has) have commented that the truck traffic projections for the Windsor-Detroit Gateway may not justify the creation of a new border crossing in the area.

While I don’t share that view, I also do not wish to get embroiled over what the precise numbers should be – traffic projections are hardly an exact science as they require a fair number of assumptions.

We can’t lose sight of the fact that car traffic has not yet returned to its pre-9/11 levels but it will someday; also truck traffic has been down of late reflecting sluggishness in the auto trade – but we have been through these cycles before. The “my consultant is better than your consultant” game grows tiresome. I err on the side of we’d better hope that the economy generates significantly more trade in the future, or we’ll have a lot more to worry about than we do today. But, it seems to me that those who are using traffic projections, revised or otherwise, to argue against proceeding with a new border crossing are missing two very important points.

First, the goal should not be to build just enough capacity to meet “expected” demand. It should be about creating the capacity, indeed perhaps even over-capacity at least for a period of time in order to attract new jobs and investment.

This is not just a case of build it and they will come. We need to build sufficient border crossing capacity to be able to assure investors looking at locating in Ontario that they will have no problems accessing the U.S. marketplace, now and in the future.

If we do succeed in attracting new auto plants and other manufacturing facilities, the traffic projections being used as a rationale for delaying action will quickly be outdated. I am optimistic about our ability to compete for direct investment dollars and the new plants, jobs, and yes, resulting truck traffic that will make those traffic projection assumptions inaccurate. Long ago, someone gave me some good advice when I was starting to think about buying a house: Buy something that is a little bigger and probably a little more expensive than you need right now, because you will grow into it and it will grow in value.

Secondly, and more importantly, whether or not we need a new crossing in two, eight or 10 years – let there be no doubt – we will need it at some point in the not too distant future.

If we do not keep up the pressure for the creation of new infrastructure now, at some point in the future we will find ourselves confronted by yet another traffic crisis and complaining about the fact that no one planned for the future and wondering why we cannot speed up the process, just as we are today. Windsor will become one of the world’s largest parking lots.

As we are now intimately aware, the process for building new infrastructure takes a great deal of time longer than most would like. But studies and consultations are a legally required part of the environmental assessment process and cannot be easily disregarded. (Though one has to wonder if any major infrastructure project will ever be built again in Canada without a revisit of the environmental assessment laws which seem to have less and less to do with the environment and more and more to do with supporting NIMBY attitudes and compensating vested interests). That’s why we need to keep up the pressure now so that when we need the infrastructure, it will be there.

If we want as a country, a province or a city, to attract new jobs and investment, it is clear that we will need investment in border crossing capacity. It is irresponsible to wait until we reach another crisis situation to decide to finally act, and then expect a solution overnight.

That kind of thinking got us into the mess we are in today in Windsor.

To delay action now because of conservative short term traffic projections will only mean future generations will be left with an even bigger mess to clean up.

– David Bradley is president of the Ontario Trucking Association and chief executive officer of the Canadian Trucking Alliance.

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