WINDSOR, Ont. - The City of Windsor will continue to fight for a six-kilometre fully-tunneled access road in a populated area between the end of Highway 401 and a planned new bridge to the United Stat...
WINDSOR, Ont. – The City of Windsor will continue to fight for a six-kilometre fully-tunneled access road in a populated area between the end of Highway 401 and a planned new bridge to the United States. This, despite what appears to be a compromise between previously proposed surface or sunken highways and the latest option put forward by government planners: a sunken six-lane roadway with 10 extended overpasses creating green or parkland spaces overhead.
“I don’t think it’s impossible,” Windsor Mayor Eddie Francis said, after the Detroit River International Crossing (DRIC) project, a consortium of the Canadian and Ontario as well as US federal and Michigan governments, in August unveiled its so-called Parkway design, a first in Ontario and likely Canada because it would incorporate parkland and link communities by longer than usual overpasses over an expressway, which is being designed primarily to efficiently route trucks to and from the United States.
Noting that DRIC planners had taken various earlier highway design options off the table, the mayor still thinks the city can win a fully tunneled route to protect residents from truck noise, pollution and traffic disruption from a highway that would still cut a swath through Windsor’s far west side.
“The same (government) individuals…were telling us that it was impossible to consider to do anything but E.C. Row,” the mayor said, a reference to an original proposal that would have seen trucks diverted off Hwy. 401 to Windsor’s E.C. Row Expressway, which cuts through the heart of the city. “We’ve come a long way from that time.”
Yet the mayor and city council, which fully backs him, may have an uphill battle. Two key provincial Cabinet ministers from Windsor, Dwight Duncan and Sandra Pupatello, have come out in favour of the Parkway. It’s thought by many here that with such political heavy-hitters on-board, the fix is in for the latest design.
Duncan reportedly called the Parkway concept “creative” and “better than anything we have in Ontario…on par with anything you will find in the world.” Pupatello said the proposal seems to take the best of both worlds.
Francis said it’s incumbent for DRIC to listen to the city since senior governments have asked for the city’s input into the border route. The city, for example, hired world-renowned former New York City traffic guru “Gridlock Sam” Schwartz, who came up with his own city-backed plan. And the city consulted international tunneling experts Parsons Brinckerhoff, to propose solutions. Parsons Brinckerhoff’s Nasri Munfah said building a full tunnel was highly feasible and that DRIC’s below-grade roadway is antiquated because such depressed highways divide neighbourhoods. Other cities, he said, are now “trying to clear them or cover them.”
Said Francis, “I think (DRIC is) surprised that we’re putting workable solutions on the table and that we’re going to the extent that we are to be sure that the solutions that we do put on the table are supported by technical expertise.”
But DRIC, in documents handed out at public information sessions, made clear its reasons for rejecting full tunneling. Tunneling, it says, provides “no real advantages in terms of reducing impacts to properties, land use, natural features or cultural features” and therefore does “not justify the associated enormous additional cost, when other solutions are available that offer similar benefits at less cost and with less risks during construction.”
The Parkway proposal would cost $1.5 billion, compared to tunneling at $3.8 billion. An earlier option for a surface freeway, which DRIC has also rejected, would have cost between roughly $600-$900 million.
DRIC stated the chief concerns raised by city council and many residents for why they want full tunneling – to reduce noise and pollutants from international trucks – would be satisfied by the Parkway’s sunken road and extensive overpasses or “short tunnels.”
For example, DRIC said the Parkway would only have “limited influence” on air quality.
“Local air is more strongly influenced by background sources and trans-boundary (from the United States) flow than by transportation sources.” And that with “changes to fuels and technology” and having the road below grade, air quality “will improve” though there will be more “road dust” by the free flow of traffic. By contrast, full tunneling’s reduction in particulate matter would be “offset somewhat” by increased concentrations “in gaseous pollutants emitted over a larger area” beyond the access road from the tunnel’s ventilation shafts.
Noise would also be reduced, DRIC says, as the sunken roadway would limit sound to less than five decibels – “an increase of three decibels is barely perceptible.”
Francis rejected those arguments. “The experts and the engineers that we have seem to disagree with that,” he said. Francis also said it’s a “question of how (DRIC is) measuring their impacts.” He agreed Windsor’s “regional” air quality is affected by general conditions like trans-border pollution. But he wanted to know the effect on people within “250 metres” of the road.
Residents have also complained that a surface or sunken highway would severely divide Windsor’s neighbourhoods. But DRIC argues the Parkway would knit communities together and provide amenities like more green space on the longer overpasses, each of which is longer than one football field, for a total of 1.5 km of tunnels. These would include “new trails for pedestrians and cyclists, linkages for wildlife, landscaped buffer zones, while allowing entrance spots for local traffic.”
Asked if the Parkway is a compromise between earlier road designs and the demand by the city for full tunneling, Dave Wake, manager of the provincial planning office overseeing the project, would only say that “it grows out of some of the earlier options.”
Wake acknowledged widespread public support for tunneling but “we concluded that the tunnel did not give the benefits that you might expect for this added investment.”
Nevertheless, Wake left the door open for more discussion, noting DRIC is “very anxious to obtain the feedback and then see what further refinements we can make as we move ahead.”
Planning for a new access road and bridge, along with a massive Customs plaza, follows the growth in truck traffic at the Ambassador Bridge, accelerated by NAFTA, where some 10,000 trucks a day cross at the continent’s busiest commercial border. Windsor-Detroit handles 28% of Canada/US merchandise trade. The current Ambassador Bridge is almost 80 years old. The main roadway connecting the some dozen kilometres between it and Hwy. 401 is municipally-operated on a route with more than a dozen traffic lights.
Meanwhile, the Ambassador Bridge, in a separate plan, aims to have a second six-lane span built immediately to the west of the current bridge. It is seeking approvals to move forward, regardless of the government DRIC process. Trucking and business groups have overwhelmingly endorsed DRIC.
“The DRIC team is on the right track in moving forward with solutions to inefficient and inadequate border crossings,” a joint release by the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA), the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Automotive Parts Manufacturers Association, issued last December, said.
A local trucking company executive may have summed up the need for a new road best. Angelo Pernasilici, co-owner of Laser Transport Inc., whose company, with 70 units hauls mainly to the US, said DRIC’s latest and possibly final proposal “is not going to be a perfect situation.” But, he added, “in cases like this you have to take the least damaging (proposal) and go forward. The entire economy of Windsor/Detroit, Michigan/Ontario, Canada/US primarily depends on this border crossing.”