WINDSOR, Ont. - The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich. could play a key role in building a new link between Fort Erie, Ont. and Buffalo, N.Y.Ambassador Br...
WINDSOR, Ont. – The company that owns the Ambassador Bridge linking Windsor, Ont. and Detroit, Mich. could play a key role in building a new link between Fort Erie, Ont. and Buffalo, N.Y.
Ambassador Bridge officials have met with several political figures about potential solutions for the Niagara span, confirms Dan Stamper, president of the Detroit International Bridge Co. and Canadian Transit Co., which run the Canadian half of the Ambassador Bridge. The Ambassador Bridge has been run as a profit-making enterprise since 1929, but the Peace Bridge is operated by the Buffalo and Fort Erie Public Bridge Authority (Peace Bridge Authority), a public non-profit agency with members from Canada and New York State.
The Ambassador Bridge is the busiest border crossing between Canada and the U.S., carrying 13 million vehicles a year, including 13,000 trucks per day. Slightly fewer than 8 million vehicles (5,000 to 6,000 trucks per day) used the Peace Bridge in 1999.
Until 1992 the Peace Bridge was the nation’s busiest commercial crossing.
Stamper says his management team was invited to Buffalo in the midst of a groundswell of opposition to a Peace Bridge Authority proposal to twin the existing bridge.
“We didn’t go there looking for an opportunity,” he said. But New York political figures such as Democratic senators Daniel Moynihan and Charles Schumer wanted to hear suggestions.
Construction was about to start when the plan to twin the Peace Bridge met opposition from community groups and politicians, who raised questions about the environmental assessment process, land easement rights and, not insignificantly, what the future bridge should look like. These groups called for a “signature span” that would be a modernized link between the two countries and a symbol of civic pride.
In March, a community review panel with backing from groups on both sides of the issue rejected an independent engineering review that had concluded the twinning proposal was cheapest, most environmentally appropriate and quickest to build.
On the legal front, the Peace Bridge Authority also was blocked by the New York Supreme Court, which sided with three lawsuits over environmental assessments. The third blow was a decision by Buffalo city council to withdraw shore easement rights it had earlier granted for the second span.
Peace Bridge officials have since appealed the court’s ruling and sued the city over the easement rights.
After the court decision Schumer’s office contacted Ambassador officials.
The Ambassador team has made a series of aggressive initiatives directly affecting truck traffic. They built an off-site Canadian truck inspection facility to reduce plaza congestion, a new truck exit and inspection facility on the U.S. side of the border, and a new Canada Customs facility on both sides of the span. Stamper also pointed out that his bridge handles more than twice the amount of commercial traffic as the Peace Bridge but, he says, “with less problems.”
For the Peace Bridge Authority, the fight for a new bridge is nothing short of a fight for survival. Any proposal by the Ambassador Bridge to take over the Niagara River link would include paying off the Peace Bridge’s debt and dissolving the Peace Bridge Authority which was set up to assume the debt of a private bridge company that went out of business in the Great Depression.
Should Ambassador Bridge management win a contract to build a new link, Stamper said the first priority would be to improve the existing span’s flow of traffic and then build a new link, likely in another location, for about $100 million
Meanwhile, the Peace Bridge Authority itself is less than thrilled by the idea of a new link. U.S. co-manager Earl Rowe says the Ambassador Bridge’s intervention “muddies the water. It implies a private sector solution could somehow be done quicker, more effectively and be managed better. That’s absolute nonsense.”
Rowe scoffs at the Ambassador Bridge’s supposed greater expertise. He said the Peace Bridge Authority has superior bridge management practices both in terms of operations and technology. For example, he said, the Peace Bridge pre-clears more truckers than any other Canada-U.S. border crossing. After its new Commercial Vehicle Processing Center (CVPC) opened in November, the rate of pre-clearance increased to 86 per cent from 64 per cent. “We take a lot of pride in it. It’s an innovation.”
And, Rowe adds, the Ambassador Bridge charges the highest truck tolls, and charges autos traveling in both directions. The Peace Bridge does not. n