WINDSOR, Ont. –The only truck ferry carrying hazardous goods between Canada and the United States is expected back in operation this month after a five-month, $8.8 million reconstruction.
The project transforms the facility in Windsor’s west end from its poor cousin status compared to the city’s other border crossings – the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit-Windsor Tunnel -to a state-of-the-art transportation plaza.
This includes paved truck parking, lighting, a hazardous spills containment area, and a widened and paved 400-metre access road leading from Maplewood Dr. in the city’s Ojibway industrial park, reached from Hwy. 401 by the city’s E.C. Row Expressway.
The privately-owned US-based ferry began operating on Earth Day 1990.
It made a name for itself after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by assisting in taking backed-up trucks across the almost two-kilo-metre, 20-minute route between Windsor and Detroit.
The ferry carries hazardous goods and oversized loads banned by the Ambassador Bridge and the tunnel.
During construction, trucks have had to navigate almost 250 kms north to the Blue Water Bridge between Sarnia and Pt. Huron, which does allow HazMat.
The ferry last year was making up to seven trips a day each way carrying five tractor-trailers per trip.
The project is being paid for from $300 million in federal/provincial border infrastructure funds announced in 2005.
That money is being spent on streamlining traffic routes through Windsor, particularly with regard to commercial arteries leading to the US border.
Other projects from the fund have included a new underpass on Walker Rd., which is a heavily-used corridor located adjacent to the Chrysler Canada minivan assembly plant.
The $300 million is separate from the almost $5 billion projected for a new border access road between Hwy. 401 and a Customs plaza linked to a new Windsor- Detroit bridge. Preliminary construction on the below-grade, six-lane expressway has begun.
Prior to ferry dock reconstruction, trucks had to make a sharp left turn from Maplewood Dr. onto the one-lane gravel road leading to a congested parking lot at the dock. Then they had to make another sharp left turn to drive up a barge ramp leading to the ferry itself, which in fact is a larger barge pushed by a tug boat.
“For a lot of our larger loads it limited us to what we could take,” ferry company vice-president Gregg Ward said. “With this new system it really puts us in a good position,” especially to carry longer loads.
Ward said that over the past year some customers have been transporting large sections of wind turbines destined for energy projects in southwestern Ontario.
“This will allow us to take much larger (sections) with a direct on-and-off the shore and not making these turns. It’s a great enhancement.”
Flatbeds carrying 175-ft. turbine blades, for example, also had to be backed on, which Ward called “very labourious.”
Now, when the trucks reach the bottom of the hill they’ll sidle-up to a new Canada Customs kiosk which heads a concrete divider separating the staging areas for trucks waiting to board the ferry from trucks coming off.
The lot has clearly marked lanes with perimeter and high mast lighting.
A hazardous spill system was constructed with the only sign of it a sewer grate; contaminants will be contained on-site. The area is landscaped and has a security fence.
Off-shore improvements include river dredging and shoreline protection.
“These improvements will address operational and safety concerns, prevent further deterioration, reduce congestion and improve capacity and efficiency,” Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokeswoman Heather Grondin said.