WINDSOR, Ont. - A solution for the immense and frequent backlogs of trucks at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit is in limbo, after a joint federal-provincial committee, charged with ma...
TIE-UPS: Border delays at the Ambassador Bridge disrupt traffic on Huron Chruch Rd., the major truck route in Windsor, and create havic for residents.
STILL WAITING: A decision about Ambassador Bridge back-ups has been long awaited but the federal-provincial committe is still studying border solutions.
WINDSOR, Ont. – A solution for the immense and frequent backlogs of trucks at the Ambassador Bridge between Windsor and Detroit is in limbo, after a joint federal-provincial committee, charged with making the final route decision, has indefinitely put off an announcement.
The committee’s decision had been expected soon after public meetings in January and February.
But in late February officials, without giving a reason, said the decision was being delayed. Ontario transportation ministry spokesman Bob Nichols would only say the committee continues to “seriously” study border solutions.
Windsor West Liberal MPP Sandra Pupatello said a decision might now be put off until after a likely spring provincial election. “They’re going to put this off because it’s controversial.”
The controversy follows a major announcement last September when Prime Minister Jean Chretien and Ontario Premier Ernie Eves made available $300 million in short-term emergency border funding.
This was to help solve truck tie-ups due to security measures by U.S. Customs in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
The tie-ups disrupt traffic along the major truck route, Huron Church Rd. – a Windsor boulevard with numerous traffic lights connecting Hwy 401 to the bridge – and add to noise and environmental problems for area residents.
But the welcomed announcement soon got bogged down in a more prolonged decision-making process, as the federal-provincial committee charged with determining how to spend the money, came under attack for a set of original proposals it made in December.
The proposals were criticized for being disruptive to city neighborhoods and the committee itself was cited for not having consulted with Windsor officials. From the start the committee, among other things, had been considering three major private proposals to ease the problem.
All have controversial elements. One is a segregated truck parkway from Highway 401 to city-owned EC Row Expressway and new truck-only tunnels under the Detroit River – the so-called DRTP (Detroit River Tunnel Partnership) plan.
Another is a segregated parkway from EC Row to the Ambassador Bridge – put forward by the bridge company.
The third is a new bridge from Windsor to Detroit west of the current Ambassador Bridge and using the EC Row – proposed by the Mich-Can consortium.
In December the committee endorsed parts of the proposals and supported other improvements like those to the Windsor-Detroit tunnel and creation of pre-processing truck facilities to expedite truckers’ Customs paperwork.
But what stuck in the craw locally was its endorsement of the segregated truck parkway (the DRTP proposal) through neighborhoods of south Windsor. Residents were also upset by the recommendation to widen the city’s cross-town EC Row to accommodate trucks, which number about 13,000 daily.
In several public meetings residents made their views clear. “There will still be idling trucks on our streets, the only difference is they’ll be scattered throughout the city,” resident Earl Larking told federal-provincial officials Jan. 25.
“I don’t need an environmental study to tell me that the vibrations of 5,000-7,000 trucks a day in each direction are harmful to existing neighborhoods,” added Dave Brister, a leader of a citizens group.
Residents instead say what really is needed is to pressure U.S. Customs – widely viewed as the source of the backlog problem – to process trucks faster by hiring more officers and expanding its inspection plaza.
Many residents also said the best bet for a new truck route would be to build a bridge outside the city.
At its Jan. 27 meeting City Council backed the residents and called for a seat on the government committee.
“This process is doing us a disservice by not including us,” councillor Fulvio Valentinis says.
In late February, Mayor Mike Hurst put forward an entirely new proposal.
It kept the truck route out of south Windsor and had it go further east along an industrial corridor near Windsor Airport and a proposed DaimlerChrysler auto plant.
The proposal again would have widened EC Row to carry trucks but, by doing so, the mayor hoped the province would take control of the artery, relieving the city of a financial burden.
Residents once again balked.
This time they denounced the route’s passage through a working class neighborhood and because it would still add trucks to EC Row.
Resident Bob Harper charged the mayor with turning the EC Row over to the province for “blood money” and said he would be held “personally liable” for any adverse health and property costs.
On Mar. 4 City Council bowed to citizens and rejected the mayor’s plan.
What it ended up endorsing was its own ad hoc proposal to simply upgrade existing Huron Church Rd. by eliminating several traffic lights and building grade separations.
A major complaint has been that trucks block intersections. Council also voted to ban “international” trucks – those that pass through the city and don’t load or unload here – from the EC Row.
That in turn piqued the ire of local shippers. Steve Ondejko, president of the Windsor Transportation Club and owner of OnFreight Logistics, told Truck News the measure would harm truckers and customers, who often use the city as a base of operations or require fleet repair even if they’re not moving freight into and out of town.
“You’re telling me they can’t move freight through the City of Windsor, that’s crazy,” he says.
What is considered essential to the city’s plan is a staging area along Hwy 401 for trucks. Trucks would gather at a compound before entering the city. When a sufficient number of trucks have cleared U.S. Customs an equal number would be released to proceed to the bridge. But all this would be a temporary fix.
While the city hopes the joint committee will take into consideration the city’s plan, another committee – formed earlier last year and composed of U.S. and Canadian, Michigan and Ontario officials – is looking at a long-term solution for the entire geographic area between Sarnia and Windsor. Its report is due in 2004.
Some residents say any decision should be put on hold until that committee reports.