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Windsor’s million-dollar plan

WINDSOR, Ont. - According to City of Windsor officials, the $1 million the city spent to commission the Schwartz report on short and longer-term solutions to the border congestion problem in that city...

WINDSOR, Ont. – According to City of Windsor officials, the $1 million the city spent to commission the Schwartz report on short and longer-term solutions to the border congestion problem in that city was well worth it.

And so far, trucking industry officials appear to agree.

The plan, released in late January, was hailed by Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) president David Bradley as a “significant step forward” in what has become a very long and highly contentious debate over what was initially supposed to be a short-term solution to the traffic congestion approaching the border.

“(The) announcement by the City of Windsor is a very positive step,” Bradley said. “It has taken a long time, but today we finally have a concrete proposal for moving forward – a local solution with a national vision. It’s now up to the two senior levels of government to provide the necessary support and leadership to put the plan into action.”

So what’s to like about the Schwartz report?

It examines five of the proposals for the location of potential new Detroit River crossings already being considered by the Bi-National Feasibility Report (a joint report by the Ontario, Canadian, Michigan and U.S. governments). The crossings under consideration include:

* the twinning of the Ambassador Bridge;

* the construction of a new bridge south of the Ambassador Bridge (proposed by Mich-Can International Bridge Company);

* a potential crossing even further south, from LaSalle(a municipality just south of Windsor);

* a dedicated two-way truck tunnel from north of the Ambassador proposed by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP);

* and what’s been called the Eastern corridor crossing, even further north.

The report finds that the South LaSalle and East crossings would draw the fewest trucks and require the longest bridges. As for the DRTP project, which would involve modifying existing rail tunnels for truck use, the report finds that it would also require a mostly above-grade connection to Hwy. 401. This would mean the widening of overpasses and the construction of ramps. And while it would serve commercial trucks, oversize trucks would have to continue to use the truck ferry or the Ambassador Bridge. Some residential roads would even see worsened traffic conditions, says the report, in particular Dougall Ave., where trucks travelling from the 401 to the DRTP would have to pass through multiple intersections. Thanks to the resultant queuing of trucks, most truck drivers would opt to cross via the Ambassador Bridge instead.

The twinning of the Ambassador Bridge, proposed by the Canadian Transit Commission, also has its problems, according to the report. Namely, the channeling of all border traffic via the proposed parkway link to E.C. Row Expressway west of Huron Church Rd.

The performance of the interchange of the proposed route at Huron Church Rd. and the E.C. Row Expressway is a concern, according to the report. Not to mention the impact of the construction of the access road on neighbouring communities – nearly all property takings would occur in the Sandwich neighbourhood along the Essex terminal railway corridor. Some property would also have to be acquired along Talbot Rd. and Huron Church Rd. The impact of the construction of the road on residents is the major criticism of the report (according to it, no less than 1,383 residences and 55 apartment or public housing buildings would be affected), along with the fact there would be no added value to the twinning of the bridge if there was a major incident such as a significant crash or a terrorist attack on either bridge. Traffic would still get gummed up along the approach.

Most feasible, at least according to the report, is the Mich-Can bridge proposal (although Mich-Can International Bridge Co. doesn’t actually own the land where the bridge would be, which would see a new bridge constructed south of the Ambassador, linked via the E.C. Row Expressway. While the report found that the proposed route to the new bridge would fail to remove truck traffic from central Windsor, the location of the bridge itself did provide a better alternative to the twinned Ambassador proposal, thanks to the shorter travel distance it would provide for truck travel from the 401, should a suitable approach be constructed.

In short, the report liked the location of the bridge, but didn’t like Mich-Can’s proposed approach to it.

The report’s recommendation for short-term improvement of traffic flow in Windsor deals with this problem. The short-term solution proposed by the Schwartz report recommends a stand-alone bypass from Hwy. 401 to Brighton Beach, a tract of industrial zoned land owned by the City of Windsor. Truckways from there would provide access to the foot of the newly proposed bridge as well as parallel E.C. Row Expressway to Huron Church Rd., with a link to the truck ferry as well.

The short-term plan would also include reserved FAST lanes for trucks and an intelligent technology system that would provide traffic management for trucks approaching the border, keeping them from queuing on residential streets approaching the bridge.

The report states that this is the most feasible solution, given that it would largely bypass urban and residential centres in LaSalle, and significantly reduce the number of property takings required for construction (an estimated 614 residences and 36 commercial properties lie within 200 metres of the proposed route). According to the writers of the report, this option lessens the overall impact of construction of a new route by removing any roadway on Huron Church. And the report states the route could provide immediate relief, even without the new bridge, as it could still provide access to the existing crossings, with minimal incursions into local traffic flow.

The proposed route would also be fairly easy to construct given that most of the land it would require is already owned by the City of Windsor, claim city officials.

Of course, the long-term success of the report’s plan would depend on the successful completion of the proposed new bridge, as well as the government’s cooperation in the increase of truck ferry capacity (the ferry currently pays for customs facilities and staff), an intelligent transportation system to balance traffic between Windsor and Sarnia, increased intermodal capacity at the airport, improvements to commercial and passenger rail lines, a new train tunnel to accommodate double-decked trains, improved operations at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel and continuation of capacity and operational improvements at the Ambassador Bridge (all of these are recommendations of the Schwartz report).

Just the construction of the bypass would mean land acquisition, including environmental assessments, and a bidding process for potential bridge builders – which could see the long-term project tied up for years, thanks to several competing interests.

Even so, the short-term solution still has its merits in terms of reducing traffic congestion, according to trucking officials and the City of Windsor, which makes it far more appealing than the alternative, which is doing nothing.

Now it’s just a question of finding the money to do it. And the $350 million officially set aside by the federal and provincial governments to fix the border problem, some of which has already been spent, plainly won’t.

According to Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis, it could cost as much as $700 million to do everything recommended by the Schwartz report excluding the construction of the new bridge. Just the bypass and space for a traffic management system could cost $250 million, he says.

Still, the governments will cough the money up, if they know what’s good for them, says Francis.

“It’s much less than the cost of doing nothing,” he points out. “When you consider that we could lose $18 billion per year in jobs and product getting across the b

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