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Windsor says its GreenLink trumps Parkway border proposal

WINDSOR, Ont. - The City of Windsor has put forward a border access road proposal which city officials say is far superior to the six-lane partially-tunneled highway that a consortium of senior govern...

WINDSOR, Ont. – The City of Windsor has put forward a border access road proposal which city officials say is far superior to the six-lane partially-tunneled highway that a consortium of senior governments unveiled this summer to connect Hwy. 401 to a new bridge between Windsor and Detroit.

Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis called what is known as the city’s GreenLink a “better solution” in terms of reducing pollution as well as keeping neighbourhoods together.

But more than that, says city consultant Sam Schwartz, the highway would be “world class” in design.

“Park lovers and tourists from all over the world would come to see how to build a highway properly, how to build a community properly,” Schwartz, former New York City traffic czar and president of Sam Schwartz PLLC, said in a PowerPoint presentation to Windsor City Council.

The senior governments – Ottawa, Ontario, Washington and Michigan – represented by the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) team, in August had unveiled a six-lane sunken freeway including 10 extended tunnels providing surface amenities like green space for parks and hiking trails as well as connecting surface roads from one side of the highway to the other. Known as the Parkway, DRIC also had described its proposal as state-of-the art.

“This is certainly something new and different, not something you’ve seen before in Ontario in terms of introducing some of these features,” DRIC’s Ontario planning office head Dave Wake said. Some of Parkway’s overpasses would be longer than football fields, totaling 1.5 km of tunnels along the six-kilometre route.

But Windsor City Council immediately rejected the plan, calling for the road to be fully-tunneled to protect residents from truck noise, pollution and division of neighbourhoods.

But more than that, the city had its consultants Schwartz and Parsons Brinckerhoff – a world leader in tunnel design – come up with an alternative plan. In October they tabled the so-called GreenLink and submitted it to DRIC, which had provided a time period for input from the community.

DRIC’s Parkway would cost $1.5 billion. The city’s GreenLink would total almost $1.7 billion.

While the city had earlier held out for a full tunnel Mayor Francis admitted GreenLink is a compromise.

He told Truck News the city decided against full tunneling because its consultants said it wouldn’t be practical.

“It would involve new engineering construction techniques that have not been employed to date,” such as building a specialized tunnel boring machine.

“The last thing that we wanted to do was put something on the table that they (DRIC) would dismiss,” he said.

Tunneling might also have been too expensive. DRIC had calculated a full tunnel to cost $3.8 billion.

But Francis argued GreenLink is a vast improvement over DRIC’s design. That’s because GreenLink’s six tunnels would on the whole be much longer than DRIC’s 10 tunnels, resulting in 64% or 3,830 metres of highway covered compared to DRIC’s 25% or 1,500 metres. GreenLink would therefore create 300 acres of surface green space.

By comparison, “DRIC’s Parkway would merely be a dressed-up highway,” Schwartz had told council.

Like the Parkway, GreenLink would have three lanes in each direction and follow the same route corridor along Windsor’s west side. Some service roads would also be tunneled.

The city says GreenLink also surpasses Parkway because it would substantially cut down on truck pollution. The city’s consultants say Parkway would spread emissions “throughout the corridor.” But, they said under GreenLink, emissions would be “only at (tunnel) portals, controlled by foliage,” and away from neighbourhoods, affecting 83% fewer homes.

While the GreenLink tunnels would be longer – the longest 1,220 metres – there would be ventilation from a series of jet fans, technology already widely in use. The three longest tunnels would have 42 jet fans to expend exhaust.

An overwhelming number of residents support the city’s proposal. Calls to a city hotline totaled more than 90% in favour.

Francis said the city supports the trucking industry but wants a route that will benefit trucks and trade as well as local residents.

“We understand the need to get trucks across the border fast, safely and more secure,” he said.

David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), had earlier backed DRIC’s Parkway.

Asked to comment on GreenLink, all he would say is that the OTA urges “all levels of government and politicians from all parties to support the DRIC recommendations, whatever they are, and to get on with the job of building a second crossing in Windsor by 2013.”

DRIC has continually delayed a final decision on the route, as well as a new Customs plaza and the bridge itself. It now says decisions will be made early in the new year.

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