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Multiple Lawsuits Filed As Border Bridge Battle Drags On

WINDSOR, Ont. - The best news coming out of Windsor-Detroit over the past month has been the Michigan Department of Transportation's announcement that Interstate 75 is now open to traffic near the Amb...

WINDSOR, Ont. –The best news coming out of Windsor-Detroit over the past month has been the Michigan Department of Transportation’s announcement that Interstate 75 is now open to traffic near the Ambassador Bridge.

The freeway opened for the July 4 weekend, allowing vehicles to no longer detour through a snake pit of city streets.

Still, for incoming traffic from Canada -including trucks -linking to the rebuilt six-lane freeway won’t be any easier, at least until fall. That’s when new ramps -also part of the US$230 million border Gateway project, designed to tie the bridge directly into freeways like I-75 and I-96 open.

Gateway has been the most expensive road reconstruction project in recent Michigan history. It’s also among the most controversial.

That snake pit of detours could be likened to the politics that have entwined the project, mostly in the US but with some Canadian input.

At the crux of the conflict has been the Ambassador Bridge, the company that controls traffic along the 80-year-old, four-lane span.

The bridge has filed suit against the Michigan government, which in turn has sued the bridge. The bridge has also sued the US government over a planned new border crossing down river, which would be publicly-owned. Meanwhile the US Coast Guard, the lead agency overseeing a plan by the bridge to build a second span beside the existing one, has ordered a halt to construction.

All this has some questioning whether improvements in the flow of border traffic, which have been on the drawing board for years, will be delayed further. But bridge president Dan Stamper told Truck News he’s confident elected representatives will step in to “mediate” and the issues “will get satisfied fairly quickly.”

The bridge is suing Michigan for a “fundamental breach” of an agreement to support the company as a partner in Gateway, including building the second span, which will replace the existing one. It says Michigan did that by “pursuing another competing” crossing, the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC)’s public bridge. DRIC is a consortium of the Michigan, Ontario, US and Canadian governments. It says DRIC will “steal” up to 75% of the Ambassador’s lucrative truck traffic, 98% “at certain times.”

The Michigan Department of Transportation, in its suit, alleges the bridge made unilateral changes to its plaza as part of Gateway. These include lack of construction of an overhead truck ramp leading to freeways, and building a pier that would lead to the second span, dubbed the “ramp to nowhere.”

The company in May also filed a lawsuit against the US transportation department for joining in DRIC. It said the public bridge would come ashore in an impoverished area of southwest Detroit and “sacrifice a predominantly low income, minority racial community in Detroit to avoid impacting a predominantly middle income, majority racial community inWindsor.”

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard last month suspended the bridge’s application to build the new span over construction issues raised by Michigan.

“It’s not a cancellation,” Coast Guard spokeswoman Lisa Novak said, but the bridge cannot resume construction “until these matters are resolved.”

Stamper said the overhead truck ramp wasn’t built because the company acquired land underneath, but there will still be a dedicated ramp “as it was designed.”

The pier or ramp to nowhere actually leads to the new span, Stamper said. The same exists on the Canadian side, where a ramp dead ends near water’s edge.

Windsor politicians are also upset about the bridge’s new span, saying it will dump more traffic onto city streets and destroy part of a neighbourhood.

NDP MP Brian Masse called the bridge’s buying up of nearby homes “block busting” and said it shows the bridge company “shouldn’t be trusted with another border crossing.”

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said bridge management should have been “more conscious of community needs.”

The bridge still needs to complete a Canadian environmental assessment and provide a master plan for its Customs plaza.

Stamper believes adequate information has been provided and disputes there would be traffic disruption.

“Building a new six-lane bridge is just going to make less queuing and more efficiency by taking advantage of the FAST and NEXUS policies that government has set up,” he said.

Meanwhile, both Francis and Masse allude to an announcement soon on construction of the Canadian DRIC Customs plaza. “We’re weeks away from finalizing a transaction with the federal government for the plaza and the bridge location,” Francis said.

Still in dispute is the Canadian access road. The city wants more of it tunneled, to protect neighbourhoods. The province, which calls the road its “most significant single highway” at a cost of $1.6 billion, has proposed 11 overpasses for a total of 1.8 km of tunneling over nine kilometres.

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