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Windsor’s west end selected for new crossing

WINDSOR, Ont. - The latest official announcement in the process to select a new border crossing between Windsor and Detroit selects a three kilometre width in Windsor's west end encompassing both an a...

WINDSOR, Ont. – The latest official announcement in the process to select a new border crossing between Windsor and Detroit selects a three kilometre width in Windsor’s west end encompassing both an area of heavy industry and the city’s oldest and most historic residential area. The Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) group, composed of representatives of the Canadian and U.S. governments and those of Ontario and Michigan, on Nov. 14 announced they had settled in part on the same area earmarked by the City of Windsor in its own plan for a new border crossing, though its route to get there is different.

The DRIC had originally considered 15 proposals for sites along a 50-kilometre stretch along the Detroit River from Windsor’s east side near Lake St. Clair to the town of Amherstburg, which borders on the mouth of Lake Erie. But in less than half a year those routes – many of which observers said were simply put on the table to avoid costly litigation should the DRIC be accused of not having studied all crossing possibilities – were quickly whittled down to two in the Ojibway-Sandwich area.

In the process, the DRIC pulled off the table as a viable crossing a plan by the Ambassador Bridge company to construct a twin span, and by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership (DRTP) – a consortium composed of players including Canadian Pacific Railway and the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System (OMERS) – for separate truck and rail tunnels under the river and a segregated truck highway from Hwy. 401 to the tunnel entrance.

“The capacity provided by the Detroit River Tunnel Partnership’s two-lane truck way proposal was determined to be inadequate to serve the region’s long-term needs,” the DRIC said. And it rejected the Ambassador Bridge route “to not be practical” because of its “community impacts” of a plaza and access road, that would have run through that same Sandwich residential area.

A new crossing is needed, government and industry officials say, because of the growth in trade between Canada and the U.S., the disruption on Windsor streets caused by the average 12,500 trucks per day that connect between the existing bridge and Hwy. 401, and the inefficiencies to the truck industry and economy generally by the lack of a seamless truck route, currently interrupted by more than a dozen traffic lights (the only ones “between Toronto and Tijuana,” as industry officials are fond of saying).

The need of a new crossing intensified after 9/11 when truck delays due to increased U.S. security concerns saw trucks backed-up as far as 20 km onto Hwy. 401.

But in the past year and a half those back-ups have dwindled to virtually nothing, thanks in part to the opening of seven new Customs booths for trucks on the U. S. side of the bridge. An additional three booths are expected to open this Spring. Nevertheless, the DRIC pressed on with its evaluation of sites for a new crossing because of long-term increased traffic projections and to provide redundancy, for example, in case of a terrorist attack.

But while other communities that would have seen the bridge and access routes built through them have breathed sighs of relief, the city’s west side residents quickly rallied to denounce any proposal that would cut through their community currently undergoing something of a renaissance. Windsor’s mayor, Eddie Francis, and local, provincial and federal political representatives, have also denounced the plan. Windsor city councilor Joyce Zuk said the city has no problems with accommodating the location for a new crossing.

“But if we’re going to host it all in the city of Windsor we’re going to put it where there’s no people,” she said. Zuk has objected to the DRIC’s plan to use existing access roads, albeit widened, such as Talbot and Huron Church and the E.C. Row Expressway, which in part are already connecting routes to the Ambassador Bridge. By contrast, in the city’s own proposed route, designed by renowned ex-New York City traffic commissioner “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, who was commissioned by the city, a truck bypass would have been constructed between Huron Church and the Ojibway crossing though a rural area composed of environmentally sensitive fields and woodlots.

The DRIC rejected that route because of just those environmental concerns. Zuk dismissed that, saying the route could have been tunneled and, when it comes to residents’ health over a woodlot “I’m choosing the people’s lungs.”

Meanwhile, despite being formally taken out of the running by DRIC, officials with the Ambassador Bridge and DRTP say their proposals remain alive.

“That’s fine,” the bridge’s special projects officer Skip McMahon, said. “They have a process that they’re going through. We have a process that we’re going through.”

And while the DRIC says it will “continue to explore” linking the new bridge to a proposed mammoth 100-acre Customs and toll collection plaza on the U.S. side of the Ambassador Bridge, McMahon said “nobody’s talked to us about it.”

As for the DRTP, its CEO, Mike Hurst, said the DRIC’s route might have problems even if the more industrial location is selected. That’s because it would cross more than a century-old salt mining operations. In 1954 a huge sinkhole swallowed several salt company buildings. Hurst said the land presents “real geotechnical challenges.”

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