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U.S. Expert Backs Dedicated Truck Route Proposal

WINDSOR, Ont. - A well-regarded Michigan professor - and former truck driver- has thrown his weight behind a controversial trucks-only artery to streamline the area's huge volume of international truc...


CONGESTION: A trucks-only artery between Ontario's Hwy. 401 and Detroit's freeways is the latest scheme to alleviate border chaos.
CONGESTION: A trucks-only artery between Ontario's Hwy. 401 and Detroit's freeways is the latest scheme to alleviate border chaos.

WINDSOR, Ont. – A well-regarded Michigan professor – and former truck driver- has thrown his weight behind a controversial trucks-only artery to streamline the area’s huge volume of international trucks between Hwy. 401 and Michigan freeways.

Michael Belzer, a transportation expert at Wayne State University and the University of Michigan and author of Sweatshops on Wheels, which looks at the impact of truck deregulation, called the recent proposal by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) – a joint venture by Canadian Pacific Railway and Borealis Transportation Infrastructure Trust, a subsidiary of the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) – a “great thing.” That’s because it would get trucks off congested Windsor streets and vastly lessen time drivers spend in line-ups waiting to cross the border.

“I think it’s a huge problem for the carriers and I think it’s a huge problem for the drivers who have seen their production drop as much as 50 per cent.”

The DRTP proposal would see a 14.5 km dedicated truck route using a rail right-of-way from Hwy. 401 and an expanded tunnel system under the Detroit River to accommodate trucks and trains. There would also be an integrated Canada-U.S. Customs plaza in Windsor so that trucks could be on their way without further stops on the U.S. side. Currently line-ups for inspection at the Ambassador Bridge can last hours.

The DRTP is competing against two other proposals, including one by the bridge, to provide new or expanded access points at the choked border crossing, North America’s busiest.

Belzer’s team worked with Massachusetts’ Global Insight Inc., an international firm specializing in economic planning and infrastructure analysis. They concluded the bridge is “closer to maximum vehicle capacity than was previously believed” at 92 per cent, with routine delays of one to two hours when capacity is exceeded “during many hours of the average workday.”

The research took into account not just truck capacity on the bridge span but the access roads, toll plazas and Customs plazas. “The bridge is a bridge system,” Belzer said. “It really isn’t just a bridge. So the question is, ‘What’s the full throughput of this whole system?'”

But bridge vice president Remo Mancini told Truck News Ontario government studies have indicated the bridge has capacity to the years “2012 to 15.”

What’s needed, he said, is expansion of the U.S. Customs facility. He said that would happen once the U.S. completes the $160 million “Gateway” project on the Detroit side, slated for 2006.

“That will eliminate the access and egress problems.”

Meanwhile, Mancini said traffic has declined since 1999. “We’ve had five years of zero truck traffic growth.”

The DRTP has been fiercely opposed by a large group of Windsor residents who fear noise, pollution and decline in property values.

Belzer drove trucks himself for almost 10 years.

“I did driver training, I drove a semi for a bread company, I drove a tanker truck, even drove a car-hauler for three months before I gave up.”

He took a strong interest in contractual issues, which led him into academic industrial relations.


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